Cagliari may be the capital of Sardinia, and seems an obvious place to indulge in museums, viewpoints and gastronomic feasts, but after spending a full day in the city I wonder why I bothered.
It’s a long, hot trek up to the oldest part of the city and my journey quickly becomes even longer. My guidebook suggests that the best way to enter the Castello is through the Bastione San Remy, an imposing flight of marble steps and a grand arch. Unfortunately, the rather sad looking edifice is sealed off so I seek entry elsewhere. A sign indicates a lift nearby but when I get there I discover it is not functioning. A second lift along the eastern side is also out of order and I end up walking almost a kilometre up to the main vehicle entrance and Piazza Arsenale.
The cathedral is due to close at midday so I head there first. Despite there being clear signs saying “no photographs”, a German tour group is blatantly ignoring them, so I pretend to be German for a while. The cathedral is adorned with marble: marble stairs, marble pulpits, marble columns and four marble lions devouring their prey. Beneath the altar is a marble crypt containing the marble tombs of the Savoyard royal family and decorated with carvings of Sardinian saints.
I trudge back uphill to the museum complex, a group of ugly, modern, concrete buildings. The Archaeological Museum holds most of the important finds from the island and I’m keen to see them. On the top floor is an exhibition called “Giants of Mont’e Prama” which is well laid out with detailed information in English and interactive digital facilities. However, the rest of the museum is lacking in information and not in a very logical sequence.
Just behind the Archaeological Museum, the Pinacoteca houses some important religious art from churches around Sardinia, but the fact that the modern building has been constructed around the old castle walls is more interesting for me. Next door is an Ethnographic Museum consisting solely of textiles and jewellery, overflow from the main archaeological collection.
The San Pancrazio Tower is one of two which overlooks the Castello and as it is situated at the higher end of the old town I expect it to offer the best views. The wooden stairs are very steep and the tower is open on one side so it’s not good for those who have problems with heights, but the reward is worth the effort and the views are as good as I’d hoped.
There are not many places to eat in the old town, but I find a nice buffet lunch of salads and some fantastic local white wine in a small café with wide views to the west. My dining experience is let down though by the cheap plastic cutlery. I get the impression that the people of Cagliari don’t care about their city. Some beautiful street art on the narrow lane of Via San Saturnino has been tagged by some aerosol spraying louts and the parks are full of graffiti and rubbish. The buildings are dirtied by polluting traffic and basic services, such as the lifts to the Castello, are not functioning. Even the grand, seafront Meditterano Hotel, mentioned in my guidebook as the perfect place for coffee and cake, is decaying behind metal builder’s fencing.
However, the locals do care about their faith and I find some hope in the Sanctuary of Bonaria, built to house the legendary Madonna which washed safely ashore in 1370 from a shipwreck and calmed the waters to save the drowning crew. Since then she has been saving the souls of Cagliari, whose gifts are displayed in the adjacent cloister and maritime museum. So, perhaps there is hope yet that the city of Cagliari can be saved from its indifference.