With an area of 24,089 km² - 9,3OO sq miles, Sardinia (Sardegna) is the largest island in the Mediterranean, after Sicily. It has a population of over 1,630,000. The Punta la Marmora in the Gennargentu Mountains is its highest peak with an altitude of 1,834m - 6,6017ft. Sardinia lies 200km - 124 miles off mainland Italy from which it is separated by the Tyrrhenian Sea.
The Island is quite mountainous and its scrub vegetation consists mainly of holm oaks and aromatic plants and shrubs, all typical of the Mediterranean basin.
Sardinia has a mainly pastoral economy and more than half of the island is suitable for grazing. Ewes milk is used to make the famous Sardinian cheese (pecorino) with its pronounced flavour. The Sardinians often cook their meat over hot embers, under a layer of earth and the pecorino cheese is used to flavour numerous dishes. Specialities include culingiones, the roussette (burrida). smoked ham of wild boar (proscuitto di cinghiale) and a strong meat stock with semolina balls (succutundu). Taste one of the the local wines, red or white: Nuragus and Vernaccia (dry white wine from the Oristano region, which is taken as an aperitif) are the best known.
Historical notes. - Sardinia has traces of human settlement going back to prehistoric times. The nuraghi or fortified tower-houses date from the 2nd millennium BC and are the island's earliest monuments. These strange structures in the form of a truncated cone were built of huge blocks of stone without any mortar. The only opening was a low door with a massive lintel stone. Inside each storey was roofed by a corbelled dome. The basic design evolved and towers were added and linked by stout walls, which reinforced the primitive structure. The nuraghi have a family resemblance to the brochs of Scotland. It is assumed that these fortified tower-houses served as refuges in times of danger. The island has over 7 000 nuraghi with a large concentra- tion between Porte Tortes and Barumini. Other native monuments from this period are the Giants' Tombs (Tomba dei Giganti) or collective graves, no doubt intended for the ruling families. Five hundred of these remain today and they are usually to be found at some distance from the nuraghic settlements.
The funeral chambers lined and roofed with megalithic slabs (like a dolmen) were preceded by an arc of standing stones. Inform they resemble a horned gallery grave. The dressed central stone had a small entrance at ground level.
The first settlers were the Phoenicians, followed by the Carthaginians, but these seafaring traders only colonised the coasts. The Romans however completely colonised the island for its agricultural land. From the 6 to the 8C BC the Byzantines ruled over
Following a period of comparative independence, the country was ruled by the Pisans and Genoese before falling to the Spanish and the Austrian Empire in 1713. It was not long before the Emperor exchanged Sardinia for Sicily with the dukes of Savoy. The latter took the title of Kings of Sardinia. The various settlers left few artistic traces with the exception of the Pisans, whose influence can be detected in the Romanesque and Gothic Churches.
Michelin "Green Guide to Italy" Appetizers