1902 Encyclopedia > Sardinia


SARDINIA (Ital. Sardegna, Fr. Sardaigne, Span. Cerdena, called by the ancient Greeks ____, from a fancied resemblance to the print of a foot), an island in the Mediterranean, about 140 miles from the west coast of Italy, of which kingdom it forms a part. It is separated, from the island of Corsica by the Strait of Bonifacio,, which is about miles wide, and only about 50 fathoms deep. Sardinia lies between 8° 4' and 9° 49' E. long., and extends from 38° 55' to 41° 16' N. lat. The length from Cape Teulada in the south-west to Cape Longo Sardo in the north is about 160 miles, the breadth from Cape Comino to Cape Caccia about 68 miles. The area of the island is 9187 square miles,—that of the department (com-partimentd), including the small islands adjacent, being 9294 square miles. It ranks sixth in point of size among the islands of Europe, coming next after Sicily.

The greater part of the island is mountainous, especially in the east, where the mountains stretch almost continu-ously from north to south, and advance close up to the coast. The elevations, however, are not so high as in the sister island of Corsica. The culminating point is Monte Gennargentu, which rises, about 22 miles from the east coast, almost exactly on the parallel of 40° N., to the height of 6250 feet, and is consequently little more than two-thirds of the height of the chief peaks of Corsica. On the east side the principal breach in the continuity of the mountains occurs in the north, where a narrow valley opening to the east at the Gulf of Terranova cuts off the mountains of Limpara in the extreme north-east. The western half of the island has more level land. The prin-cipal plain, that of the Campidano, stretches from south-east to north-west, between the Gulf of Cagliari and that of Oristano, and nowhere attains a greater elevation than 250 feet. At both ends it sinks to a much lower level, and has a number of shallow lagoons encroaching on it from the sea. In the corner of the island situated to the south-west of the Campidano there are two small isolated mountains rising to the height of from 3000 to 4000 feet, which are of importance as containing the chief mineral wealth of the island. A small valley runs between them from the southern end of the Campidano to Iglesias, the mining centre of Sardinia. North of the Gulf .'of Oristano mountains again appear. The extinct volcano of Monte Ferru there rises to the height of 4400 feet, and the streams of basalt which have issued from it in former ages form the ridge or saddle, about 2000 feet high, con-necting this mountain with the highland area on the east. Still further north a trachytic plateau, intersected by numerous deep river valleys, occupies a considerable tract, advancing up to the plain of Sassari on the north coast.

The rivers are numerous but short. The principal is the Oristano, which enters the gulf of the same name on the west coast.

Geologically the island is composed mainly of granite and other crystalline rocks. Granite predominates espe-cially in the east, and the mountains of that part of the island were apparently at one time continuous with the similarly constituted mountains of Corsica. Granitic spurs likewise extend to the south-west, and appear in the capes of Spartivento and Teulada. Altogether this rock is estimated to cover one-half of the entire surface. In the west of the island the principal crystalline rocks are porphyritic in structure; sedimentary deposits are com-paratively unimportant, and such as are present are mainly cither of very ancient or of recent geological date. Silurian formations attain their most considerable development in the south-west round Iglesias, where there occurred the contemporaneous porphyritic outpourings containing the most numerous mineral veins of the island. Between the deposits of Silurian and those of Cretaceous times there are none of any consequence except a few patches of Devonian round the slopes of Gennargentu, interesting as containing some beds of true coal. The members of the Cretaceous system occupy considerable tracts in the south-west, east (round the Gulf of Orosei), and north-west (in the mountains of Nurra), and a smaller area in the south-west (in the island of San Antioco). Tertiary formations are still more largely developed. They cover the whole plain of the Campidano, the west coast opposite the island of San Antioco, and the narrow valley in the north-east already mentioned. The basalts of Monte Ferru are also of Tertiary date, and it does not appear to have been till that epoch that Sardinia formed a single island.

In variety of mineral wealth the southern half of Sardinia is the richest province of Italy, and it stands second in the annual value of its mineral products. The chief minerals are sulphates of lead more or less argenti-ferous (galena), sulphates and silicates of zinc, ordinary iron pyrites, sulphates of iron and copper, of antimony, and of arsenic, besides cobalt, nickel, and silver. The coal on the flanks of Gennargentu is of good enough quality to furnish a valuable fuel, and is found in sufficiently thick seams to be workable if only the means of transport were present, but its situation is such as to render it of no economical importance. In the Tertiary deposits of the south-west there are some veins of manganese ore, and also some beds of lignite which are worked as a source of fuel for local use. The mineral wealth of Sardinia was known in ancient times, and mines were worked both by the Carthaginians and the Romans. During the Middle Ages they were for the most part neglected, but the industry was revived in modem times, and has been greatly developed in recent years. Upwards of 70 mines have now been opened, most of them in the district of which Iglesias is the centre, but a few near the southern part of the east coast, where Muravera is the chief town. The mines are mostly of argentiferous lead, silver, zinc, and iron. The ores are mainly exported in the raw state, only the inferior sorts being smelted in the island. Among other mineral products are building stones (granite, marble, &c), alabaster, and salt.

The climate of Sardinia is similar to that of the rest of the Mediterranean region, and the southern half of the island shares in the nearly rainless summers characteristic of the southern portions of the Mediterranean peninsulas. At Cagliari there are on an average only seven days on which rain falls during June, July, and August. Throughout the island these months are the driest in the year, and hence vegetation on the lower ground at least is generally at a standstill during that period, and shrubs with broad leathery leaves fitted to withstand the drought (the so-called maquis) are as characteristic here as in Corsica and on the mainland. Winter is the rainiest season of the year; but the heat and drought of summer (mean tempera-ture 95° F.) make that the most unpleasant of the seasons, while in the low grounds the prevalence of malaria renders it a most unhealthy one, especially for visitors. Autumn, which is prolonged into December, is the most agreeable season; there is then neither heat nor cold, nor mist nor fever, and at that period birds of passage begin to immi-grate in large numbers.

The agricultural products of the island are greatly inferior to what might be expected in view of the natural fertility of the soil. Two causes are assigned for this. The first is the minute subdivision of the land, which, as in Corsica, is carried to such an extent that where an owner has as much as 100 acres his property is divided into 25 or 30 lots surrounded by parcels of land belonging to other owners. In such circumstances it is neither possible to apply adequate capital to the cultivation of the ground, nor for the owners to acquire the requisite capital. The second cause is the malaria which renders certain districts possessed of a fertile soil quite uninhabitable ; and this second cause can be remedied only wdien a remedy has been found for the first, for, as the malaria is undoubtedly one cause of diminished cultivation, it is equally certain that want of cultivation is one of the causes of the malaria. In ancient times Sardinia was one of the granaries of Rome ; now cereals take a comparatively unimportant place among the exports, and this export is balanced by a considerable import of the same commodity. The chief products of agriculture are wheat, barley, and beans, the last furnishing an important element of the food of the people. Olives run wild in many places, and are grown in sufficient abundance to meet the local demand.

Almonds, oranges, and citrons are also largely cultivated, and the oranges of San Vito, near Muravera, and of Milis, a few miles to the north of Oristano, are noted for their excellence; the white wines of the banks of the Oristano are of good repute ; and among other products of the island are mulberries, tobacco, madder, and hemp. Forests of oak, cork-oak, firs, and pines, though greatly reduced in extent, still cover, it is said, about one-fifth of the surface. The rearing of live-stock receives more attention than agriculture proper. No artificial pasture-grasses are grown, but the natural pastures beside the numerous rivers yield abundance of food, except during the dry season, when the horses, asses, cattle, sheep, and goats have to content themselves with straw, some dried beans, and a little barley. Most attention is bestowed on horses. At one time the Sardinian Government endeavoured to keep a stud on the island for rearing horses for the Pied-montese cavalry, but the persons employed (natives of the mainland) were unable to withstand the malaria. There are some large private establishments for the rearing of horses, however, and the tending of live-stock generally forms so important a part of the occupations of the people that animals rank next after minerals among the exports of the island. Of the wild animals, the wild sheep known as the musimon, or European muffion, formerly an inhabitant of all the mountains of the Mediterranean peninsulas and islands, and now confined to Sardinia and Corsica, is the most interesting. Among the noxious animals are scorpions and tarantulas.

The lagoons near the coast on the south and west abound in mullets, eels, mussels, and crabs, which are caught in great numbers by the natives, while the fisheries round Sardinia, as round Corsica, are in the hands of Italians from the mainland. The anchovy, sardine, and coral fisheries are all lucrative. The coral is said to be of excellent quality, and is exported to the markets of Genoa and Marseilles.

The external commerce of the island has nearly trebled itself in the twenty-five years 1856-81, the imports and exports each amount-ing in the latter year to about ¿61,500,000 (about £2, 4s. per head of population). This increase is chiefly owing to the development of the mining industry, ores making up nearly one-third of the total value of the exports. Live animals make up about a fourth of the total value, and cereals, which come next in order, about one-seventh. The chief imports are cotton and other manufactures and colonial products. The inland trade has been greatly promoted within the last fifty years by the construction of roads and railways. Before 1828 there were no roads at all in the island; the tracks which existed could be traversed only on foot or on horseback. But upwards of 1500 miles of national and provincial roads, all well made and well kept, have since then been con-structed. Of railways, introduced since 1870, there are now 265 miles in all (equal to about 1 mile of railway for every 34 square miles of surface).

For administrative purposes Sardinia, like the rest of Italy, is divided into provinces and circles (circondarii). The following table gives the names of these divisions with the population accord-ing to the last census (end of 1881) :—

== TABLE ==

The whole population of the department is thus 682,002, equal to about 74 to the square mile, Sardinia being the least populous of all the great divisions of the kingdom, in which the average density is 255 to the square mile. The population is, however, increasing at a rather more rapid rate than on the mainland. Between 1871 and 1881 it increased by about 46,000, or 718 per cent., while the average rate of increase throughout the kingdom was only 6'16 per cent.

The inhabitants of Sardinia are a hardy race, of about middle height, and of dark complexion. They are little accustomed to hard work, but this is one of the consequences of the backward state of their civilization and of the impediments already indicated to the development of the resources of the island. Education, as in many other parts of Italy, is very far behind, notwithstanding the law which makes elementary education compulsory; but here, as throughout the kingdom, it is rapidly extending. In 1880-81 only 37,197 children, or less than one-eighteenth of the population, were in attendance at the elementary schools, but this number was double what it had been in 1861-62. At Cagliari there is a university, attended by from 300 to 400 students.

The people are lively in their disposition, fond of music and poetry, remarkably hospitable, and strong in their family attachments. "With this last trait, however, is connected the chief blot on their character—their addiction to the practice of the vendetta, which prevails here as in Corsica, and according to which an outrage on one's honour is wiped out in blood, and the cause of one member of a family is taken up by the rest, so that the death of one victim leads to the sacrifice of many others. But the practice is said to be becoming every day more rare, and never to be resorted to except in ease of serious offence.

The capital of the island is Cagliari, but Sassari in the north has an equally large population (about 34,000). The other chief towns are Tempio, Alghero, Iglesias, and Oristano, Cagliari,. Alghero, and Castel Sardo are fortified.

The antiquities of the island are numerous and of peculiar interest. The most remarkable of these are the monuments called nurhays (variously spelled also nuraghe, nuraghi, &c), of which there are upwards of 3000 scattered over the island. They are round structures having the form of truncated cones, and are generally built of the hardest materials the island supplies (granite, basalt, trachyte, limestone, &c.). The stone is roughly hewn into-large blocks, which are laid in regular horizontal courses but not cemented. The blocks in the lower courses are sometimes more than three feet in length. Entrance is obtained by a very low opening at the base to an inner chamber; and, when there are two-or, as in some cases, three stories, these are connected by means of a spiral staircase. The origin and use of these structures are both matters of speculation. The rarity of human remains in them is against the idea that they were used as tombs, while the absence of any relics pertaining to a religious ceremonial is equally adverse to the supposition that they were used as temples. Next to the nurhags the most interesting of the remains of antiquity are the so-called tombs of the giants, which appear to have been actually used as places of burial, although, as the name given to them indi-cates, their dimensions are greatly in excess of those of the human body. Besides these there are tombs the structure of which leads to the belief that they must be relics of an Egyptian colony.

History.—According to Prof. Crespi, of the university of Cagliari, the tombs just referred to are not the only signs of an early Egyptian settlement in the island of Sardinia. Various remains are said to prove beyond doubt that Egyptians must have founded at least two colonies in very remote times—one at the ancient town of Tharrus on the small peninsula of San Marco at the northern extremity of the Gulf of Oristano, and the other at Caralis, the present Cagliari. But even before the Egyptians Prof. Crespi believes that the Phoenicians had established a colony on the small island of San Antioco, and had built there the town of Sulcis, the ruins of which are still to be seen near the town of San Antioco. Of Phoenicians and Egyptians, however, there are no trustworthy historical records, and the first settlers whose arrival is historically accredited were the Carthaginians, who succeeded in making themselves masters of the island under Hasdrubal in 512 B.C. The island remained in Carthaginian hands for upwards of two hundred and seventy years, and then passed into those of the Romans, who took advantage of the war in which Carthage was involved with her mercenary troops after the close of the First Punic War to seize the island (238 B.C.). Thenceforward the island remained in possession of the Romans till near the fall of the empire of the West, when Sardinia also began to suffer from the ravages of the northern hordes by which Italy was at that time overrun and the empire of the West overthrown. About the middle of the 5th century the island was occupied by the Vandals under Genseric, but in the first half of the following century these were expelled by Belisarius. Very soon after, however, Goths succeeded the Vandals, and after these had in their turn been driven out by Narses the natives managed to expel the Romans and to achieve their independence (665). The Sardinians thereupon elected the leader in the revolt against Rome king of the island, and by him the island was divided into the four grand-judicatures of Cagliari, Arborea, Torres, and Gallura. The grand-justices or rulers of these four divisions continued to retain a considerable amount of power during a large part of the Middle Ages. But from the early part of the 8th century down to the middle of the 11th their influence was greatly impaired by repeated inroads of the Saracens, who landed now on one coast now on another, and kept the inhabitants in a constant state of alarm. This state of matters was at last put an end to by the Genoese and Pisans, who, acting under the sanction of the pope, despatched a fleet against that of the Saracens. A battle ensued in the Bay of Cagliari ; the Saracens were completely defeated, and the allies landed on the island (1050). Very soon the Pisans adroitly managed to rid themselves of the Genoese, and to gain possession of almost the entire island, deposing the grand-justices of Cagliari, Torres, and Gallura. With the Pisans the greater part of the island remained till 1325, when the pope gave Sardinia to the king of Aragon, who combined with the grand-justice of Arborea to drive out the former rulers. But, this being accomplished, war soon broke out between the two, and numerous successes were gained by the grand-justice Marian IV. and his daughter Eleonora acting as regent on behalf of her son Marian V., a minor. The Aragonese seemed to be on the point of being driven out of the island when Eleonora died of the plague (1403), and soon after the whole island became an Aragonese (after the union of the crowns of Aragon and Castile a Spanish) province. It remained Spanish till the treaty of Utrecht in 1713, when it was ceded to the house of Austria, by which in 1720 it was handed over to Victor Amadeus II., duke of Savoy, in exchange for the island of Sicily. Shortly before the date of this acquisition the duke of Savoy (see SAVOY) had had the title of king conferred upon him, and when the cession of Sardinia took place the title was changed to that of king of Sardinia. With this kingdom the island ultimately became merged in the kingdom of Italy.

See La Marmora, Voyage en Sardaigne (Paris, 2d ed., 1837-57); Roissard de Bellet, La Sardaigne à vol d'oiseau (Paris, 1884) ; Robert Tennant, Sardinia and its Resources (Lond., 1885). (G. G. C.)

The above article was written by: George C. Chisolm.

About this EncyclopediaTop ContributorsAll ContributorsToday in History
Terms of UsePrivacyContact Us

© 2005-23 1902 Encyclopedia. All Rights Reserved.

This website is the free online Encyclopedia Britannica (9th Edition and 10th Edition) with added expert translations and commentaries