by Dr. Stefanie Claudia Müller
The history of the second-largest island in Mediterranean after Sicily is tempting as its food. But you have to distinguish very well between touristic and cheap places and the real local kitchen. However, the ice cream never disappoints. The fact that Sardinia is almost as far from the Italian mainland as Tunisia surprises most people. There is an obvious link to Africa and its culture as well as to prehistoric times. Thousands of nuraghe (stone buildings) dot the landscape. They proof that people have been enjoying the island for millennia.
In Covid-19 times Sardinia is a relaxed place where buses are still crowded and wearing a mask on the streets is not a duty. That is probably the first reason why one should visit this rebellious island that always has been an important strategic place and jewel for many countries as Spain, France and Germany that have tried and some even achieved to conquest the wild Sardinia – at least for a while.
From posh Costa Smerelda in the north to medieval Alghero in the northwest to the lively capital of Cagliari (picture) in the south, the island offers much more than just beaches if you speak the language and can mingle with the people or with the sheep: there are as many as three million of the fluffy companions, while only about 1.2 million people call the island their home.
When a flag is more than a national symbol
The loss of the independence, the firm Aragonese (later Spanish from 1479) rule, with the introduction of a sterile feudalism, as well as the discovery of the Americas, provoked an unstoppable decline of Sardinia. The unceasing attacks from North African pirates and a series of plagues (from 1582, 1652 and 1655) further worsened the situation. However, until today the Sardinians stick to their tradition: the symbol of the Four Moors in their flag represents the successful political period of the “Giudicati” (kingdoms) in which island was divided during the medieval period which was according to some the best example of true autarchy.
There are different opinions about the origin of the flag, even Sardinians are not sure what to say. The flag is originally composed of the St George’s Cross and four heads of Moors. The most accepted hypothesis is that it represents the heads of Moorish princes defeated by the Aragonese. However, at the end of XV century when the Crown of Aragon and the Kingdom of Castile are united in the Kingdom of Spain, Sardinia was included and it received officially the flag of the Four Moors with bandages on their foreheads and their faces turned to the left. In 1572 the military arm of the Sardinian Parliament finally adopted the emblem, with the blindfold faces and turned their heads right as a symbol of royalty. You find this very special flag everywhere: on beer bottles, beach towels or pens.
The message of the symbol is that Sardinians have not to look at the past, but to think of creating a better future right now. It is the banner of a proud and hospitable population that is displayed everywhere to welcome tourists and visitors, although they lack at some places language skills and also a modern service mentality, compared for instance to other tourist countries as Spain.
That Sardinia is different shows the fact that in Covid-19 summer no rental cars are available on the island, or just for unacceptable prices. There is always missing something in the restaurants, hotels or in transport. Bad logistics in uncertain times require from international tourists a lot of patience. There is certainly a lack of professionality in many ways. It seems somtimes, at least in the South, like some people want to make money, but with the smallest effort possible. Sometimes you also get the impression that they just don’t care, that they don’t depend on the tourists or at least that is what they want. They are Sardinians, they are independent.
Sardinia – a love at second sight
TukTuk guide Mauro Puddo (picture with a client) is different. He is very service minded, speaks English and is very talkative. With his TukTuk he shows us the small streets of the island’s capital, its fantastic front door gardens and the historic monuments as well as the more than 120 churches. During his tour around Cagliari he refers to Italy as it was another country: “We are not racist like some of them”. The 45 years old former shop manager is proud as many Sardinians to speak his own language – a mixture of Spanish and Italian.
Like already mentioned despite the international flair the island has got with many Africans and Asians seemingly well integrated in the society you need to speak Italian or Sardinian to get along on the island and be able to order, shop or drive around.
While in Madrid a Chinese shop owner gets away with bad Spanish, on this island you don’t sell (and buy) anything if you don’t speak the language – Sardinian or Italian at least. English is not really a known way to communicate in one of Europe’s most popular tourist destinations. Also Spanish is just understood by a few. Not even in Cagliari, Mauro’s hometown, you can find many people that can at least count in English. But after a while you find your way around, even if that sometimes means that you cannot pay a bill in a restaurant or you have to refuse to buy something in a shop. It seems they don’t mind much.
Therefore, Mauro has already a big advantage with his language skills. He doesn’t want to get married, but he wants to stay where he was born, and the only way to do so is to live from tourism, since the other industries are poor on the island. And to make money with tourists you have to be able to talk to them: “This winter I will learn German as well”, he tells us. If you are not as flexible as he is you have to find your luck abroad or stay poor. Thus, in the 1950s and 1960s many Sardinians migrated to Lombardy, Piedmont, Liguria, Tuscany and Rome and the rest of Europe, mostly in Germany, France and Belgium.
Sardinia is Mafia free – at least in the South
Mauro’s tours in English make you understand the special character of the island and its people, you fall in love with at second glance. He tells you that Mafia has no chance in Sardinia, at least not the Italian one. It is a rebellious place with its own character and an even violent recent history of terrorism. In the span of just two years (1987–1988), 224 bombing attacks were reported. In 1983, for the first time ever a militant of a nationalist party, the Sardinian Action Party (Partidu Sardu-Partito Sardo d’Azione), was elected president of the regional parliament. In 1999, the indigenous languages were eventually recognized and allowed to formally enjoy co-official status alongside Italian.
In 1948 Sardinia obtained the status of autonomous region with the highest degree of self-governance. The first regional elections were held on 8 May 1949. By 1951, malaria was successfully eliminated. In the same years the Italian economic miracle led to the birth of Sardinian tourist “boom”, mainly focused on beach holidays and luxury tourism, such as in Costa Smeralda.
Today about ten million people visit the island every year. However, a ponderous industrialization effort was commenced which included the realization of new dams and roads, reforestation, agricultural zones on reclaimed marsh land, and large industrial complexes (primarily oil refineries and related petrochemical operations). These efforts that are still visible have largely failed due to the high costs of transportation that could not compensate the cheap labor.
Until today the island, at least in the South, seems to be less developed than other touristic destination of this kind. Anyhow: Everyone who likes adventure, beaches as well as good food and who is patient enough will find
Sardinia a great place to discover unique places with white sand and clear water, a very interesting history, a broad culture of music, dances & handicrafts as well as people who are not “real Italians2 – whatever that means.
In pandemic times it is without any doubt a ideal place to escape fear and control, although it is not a cheap destination – especially for people who like alcohol. A glass of wine can easily cost 5 to 6 euros, a beer nearly the same. But Sardinians are very cool and mostly friendly people, also with the handling of Covid-19. They cannot be bothered in a way, they also have few cases so far. They keep distance and wear masks where it is necessary. No panic on this beautiful island…and more tourists in 2020 than they could hope for. Sardinia is lucky this year. Or is that just an impression, because we cannot really communicate with the people?