Olbia is an Italian town of 60.491 inhabitants in the province of Sassari in Sardinia.
Since 2005, it has been the capital, together with Tempio Pausania, of the province of Olbia-Tempio, suppressed in 2016 and operationally replaced by the “homogeneous area of Olbia-Tempio” for the exercise of provincial functions within the province of Sassari.
Thanks to the 2021 reform of Sardinian local authorities, Olbia shares the capital of the established Province of North-East Sardinia with the city of Tempio Pausania. It was the ancient capital of the Giudicato di Gallura and the first bishopric of Gallura (Diocese of Civita – Ampurias until 1839). The city, one of the main in Sardinia, is an industrial and commercial reality, its port is one of the main points of connection with the Italian continent.
By virtue of its geographical position Olbia, whose foundation has its roots in the Phoenician era, can be defined as “the pearl of Gallura”. The city preserves precious vestiges of the Nuragic and Romanesque civilization which are flanked by modern structures such as ports and airports that make it an important tourist and commercial center. From monuments to beaches there are many things to see in Olbia.
Fragments of pottery found in Porto Rotondo and a characteristic female statuette representing the Mother Goddess found in Santa Mariedda, date back to the Middle Neolithic (4000 – 3500 BC) the first evidence of man in the Olbiese territory. Subsequently, during the Eneolithic period, schematized human figures were depicted in the walls of the Pope’s cave – on the island of Tavolara – with red ocher, dating back to 2700 – 2500 BC, while it dates back to the Ancient Bronze Age (1800 – 1600 BC.) the tomb of the giants of Su Mont’e s’Abe.
In 1324, Sardinia was conquered by the Catalan-Aragonese and under this domination the feudal regime was established which involved the disintegration of the Giudicato di Gallura, with the sole maintenance of the territorial organization in curatoria (renamed incontrade): Terranova was first in the homonymous lordship, then of the barony of Terranova, and then marquisate from 1579. In fact, from the thirteenth to the sixteenth century the city slowly declined due to problems related to the mutation of the axis of maritime traffic, which moving towards Spain, favored the cities of the west coast Sardinian.
The environmental unhealthiness and the presence of malaria, combined with exposure to Ottoman pirate raids (in 1553 the pirate Dragut devastated the center), caused the decline of the city. In the second half of the sixteenth century, the city was sparsely inhabited: in 1559 no more than 90 fires were attributed to Olbia (about 360-400 inhabitants), at the end of the seventeenth century just 240 inhabitants. The process of depopulation of the coasts occurs in conjunction with the repopulation of the inland areas of Gallura, which also benefit from the migrations of populations fleeing Corsica.
Famous for the beaches of Cala Sassari and Lido Pittulongu, crowded with tourists and locals, Olbia is also appreciated for its lively historic center full of shops and trendy clubs where you can immerse yourself in the nightlife while consuming fabulous aperitifs and cocktails, in vogue of the moment.
The promenade has been recently renovated, parking lots, flower beds and benches have been created ready to welcome tourists who disembark from ferries and cruise ships.
Let’s begin our tour of this unforgettable pearl of Sardinia!
Archaeological Museum of Olbia
The Archaeological Museum of Olbia, the main city of Gallura, exhibits a complete review of the civilizations that developed in Sardinia. Symbolizing its position on the sea and the role played by the port city in history, the museum has the shape of a moored ship with circular windows and suspended walkways. The exhibition, dedicated to the port and the city, traces the Phoenician, Greek, Punic, Roman, medieval, modern and contemporary eras.
The Museum, located on the small Peddona Island, in front of the old port, recalls with its shapes the image of a moored ship, due to both the urban-maritime context in which it is inserted and the important role of Olbia as a port city in the history of Sardinia.
The museum itinerary is divided into two floors. In the first room on the ground floor, you will find authentic rudders and masts of ships and the reconstruction of two shipwrecks of cargo ships that were set on fire during the attack by the Vandals (about 450 AD). You will relive the raid ‘from within’, in the fourth room, with the sinking of eleven ships, which decreed the end of Roman Olbia, thanks to a suggestive projection.
Second and third environments show other remains of the port, including the wreck of a medieval boat, unique in Italy. A model of the port in the 2nd century AD. is housed in the last room on the floor.
The first room on the upper floor documents the pre-Nuragic and Nuragic periods, the Phoenician settlement (750 BC) and the Greek-Focese (630-520 BC), during which Olbia was the only Greek port in the western Mediterranean.
Not surprisingly, Greek relics were found in the excavations. The second is dedicated to Carthaginian rule, symbolized by the granite stele with the goddess Tanit, and transition to the Roman one.
The third room houses terracottas, funeral objects and amphorae dating back to the transition from Punic to Roman, while the next one documents the full ‘Romanization’ (from the mid 1st century BC). main city deity. The fifth room tells the relationship between Roman Olbia and the Mediterranean, as well as the traumatic advent of the Vandals.
Among the finds, oil lamps, coins, rings, necklaces and an Egyptian statuette of Osiris stand out. The last room is dedicated to the Byzantine age, with the city reduced to a village, and later: capital of the Giudicato of Gallura, Aragonese-Spanish age (with the name ‘Terranova’), Piedmontese, unitary and post-unitary.
The Museum tells the story of “Olbía”, the “happy” city of the Greeks, with its strategic port and millenary cultural stratifications. It is the museum in Italy that exhibits the largest number of ancient ships and the only one in the world that shows masts and rudders from the Roman age, therefore a must for those who are passionate about ancient navigation techniques.
Less than 10 kilometers from Olbia, the Nuraghe Riu Mulinu, also known as Nuraghe di Cabu Abbas from the quarry above which it stands, is an imposing structure complete with fortification walls about 250 meters long.
The building is immersed in the hills covered with Mediterranean scrub and is positioned 246 meters above the sea level, guaranteeing those who climb to the highest part of the site a wide, breathtaking view of land and sea. Due to its position and the discovery of a small female statue supporting an amphora, it is thought that this place was used both as a sighting point for enemy ships and as a place of worship.
From its almost 250 meters of altitude, at the top of the peak of Cabu Abbas, it controlled the arrival of enemy boats from a strategic position, its horizon reached as far as the island of Tavolara. The Riu Mulinu nuraghe is one of the best known nuragic fortifications in the north of the island. It rises a few kilometers from Olbia and can be dated around 1300-1200 BC.
The central tower is well protected by a mighty wall that surrounds the hill for 220 meters in length, with a height and width that reached up to 5 meters. The main feature of the walls is the fact that they are incorporated into the rocky outcrops that are found along its perimeter. It opens into two entrances: one to the north, the other to the south. Inside the walls, the building is a single tower with a circular shape of about eight meters in diameter.
Made up of granite blocks, the nuraghe is characterized by a passage with a small niche and a staircase leading to the upper floor which is no longer accessible. The compartment under the staircase leads to a sacrificial pit, in which fragments of burnt bones and ceramic finds were found. Excavations, dating back to 1936, have brought to light a bronze statue depicting a woman with an amphora on her head.
Thanks to the important discovery, scholars were able to date the construction and identify the nuraghe as a place linked to the sacred rituals of the cult of water.
Riu Mulinu is the highest nuragic expression of Olbia, but two other monuments of the second millennium BC are also of great importance: the sacred well of sa Testa, just outside the town, also dedicated to the cult of water, and the tomb of Giants of su Monte de s’Aba (or de s’Ape), which has the particularity of having been a common ‘grave’, where the dead were collectively buried.
Inhabited by Phoenicians and Greeks, Olbìa (which means ‘happy’) became a Roman colony, which bequeathed us above all the aqueduct, the thermal baths and s’Imbalconadu, a typical Roman farm.
To complete the tour in the prehistory and history of the city, you cannot miss the opportunity to take a journey through various eras in the Archaeological museum, set up on the islet of Peddone, and in the necropolis museum, under the suggestive basilica of San Simplicio, patron of the city.
Pedres Castle, sometimes also called Pedes Castle or Pedreso Castle, is a historic building located a few kilometers from the city of Olbia, once the seat of a privileged Judicial residence.
It is a fort, dating back to the Middle Ages, built in local stone in the mid-thirteenth century, during the Visconti period of the Giudicato of Gallura and subsequently used by the Pisans to cope with the attack by the Aragonese.
Walking through the ancient ruins of the castle, visitors are brought back to the Giudicato period of the thirteenth century when the Pisans and the Aragonese dominated the island. The castle was in fact commissioned by the Visconti as a defensive structure of the Giudicato of Gallura. Built with local stone and composed of four observation towers, today only one remains to watch over the surrounding area, but a walk through the ruins can show us what remains of the walls, one of the two large squares and two dilapidated rooms with the ceiling cruise.
Near the fortress there is also the Tomb of the Giants Su Monte ‘e S’Abe, a monumental site dating back to 4000 years ago that can be visited both inside and outside.
Until 1296, Nino Visconti was judge of Gallura (he was also the last) who used it for military purposes. His daughter Giovanna who could not succeed him, however, took over the real estate assets, including this castle.
The fortress had the main function of defending Civita and the borders with the Giudicato of Torres.
Originally the castle was equipped with four towers and characterized by two squares, one upper and one lower, enclosed by polygonal walls, reachable through stairs built with large granite boulders.
Two dilapidated rooms are still visible in the upper square, one of which with a cross vault, a cistern for collecting rainwater, and the keep, which was originally divided over four floors and allowed to control the territory up to the gulf. of Olbia.
Access to the tower was placed at a height of about 6 meters and was done using retractable wooden stairs.
In 1339, the castle was entrusted to the hospital friars of St. John of Jerusalem. From the second half of the 14th century, it was occupied by the Aragonese and then by the Giudicato of Arborea. It then experienced a definitive abandonment at the beginning of the 15th century, coinciding with the decline and depopulation of Civita (later Terranova Pausania).
Most of the damage suffered by the fortress is attributable to neglect and abandonment in recent decades, but some are attributable to the bombings of the last war.
In the years following the conflict it was also used as a functional structure for the management of the nearby Olbia-Venafiorita airport.
Basilica of San Simplicio
The Basilica of San Simplicio, in Olbia, is the most important and ancient religious monument in north-eastern Sardinia and a testimony to the spread of Christianity on the island. Cathedral until 1839, parish church since 1955, it was awarded the title of minor basilica in 1993 by Pope John Paul II.
It is dedicated to San Simplicius, proto-bishop of the city and martyr under the Emperor Diocletian, today patron saint of the diocese of Tempio-Ampurias and Olbia.
The church was studied with an archaeological method and revealed 5 construction phases, to the detriment of the 3 highlighted so far. Originally it consisted of a three-arched building, shorter (four pairs of arches) and lower and with a wooden roof. The second phase saw the creation of the barrel vaults in the aisles, while the third phase saw the elevation of the roof. The fourth phase corresponds to the lengthening of the classroom by two pairs of arches with the displacement of the facade to the last pair of pillars. The fifth phase saw the preparation of a bell tower with the further movement of the facade to its current position by merging the new construction.
Even today, the Basilica shows the final style typical of the last working workers: the Lombard Romanesque style, stands on a small hill, once located outside the walls and used from the Republican era to the Middle Ages as a cemetery area.
The conjectures on the existence of an early Christian cult building, probably erected between 594 and 611, are doubtful as the source dates back to around 1600. The church is mostly built in local granite, apart from the augmentation interventions carried out in brick work.
The exact date of foundation of the original church is not known at the present stage of research.
The structure of the basilica has three naves divided by arches on pillars and columns, according to an alternating system of supports. In the walls, internal and external, there are characteristic bas-reliefs, including a small face and a snake, a belt to represent, in Christian symbolism, the immortality of the soul, birds and leaves in the lava stone capitals and a defeating Christ the pagan peoples. In a small crypt, located under the arch of the main altar, the remains of the bodies of saints Simplicius, Rosula, Diocletian and Florentius were found (in 1614). They still reside at the foot of the altar.
From the Punic era to the Middle Ages, where the church and surrounding square stand today, there was a Roman necropolis, which later became Christian, where the martyrs of Olbiesi were buried. The whole area hides about 450 tombs. Numerous artifacts have also been found inside them: ceramics, coins, jewels and glass, exhibited at the Archaeological Museum of Olbia, where you can continue your cultural visit to the city.
Tomb of the Giants
The Tomb of the Giants of Su Mont’e s’Abe is an archaeological site located in the territory of the municipality of Olbia, in the province of Sassari.
It is the largest in Sardinia, and is also quite well preserved. A historical and cultural heritage that sinks into the past up to the Nuragic age. This is Su Mont’e s’Abe, the Tomb of the Giants of Olbia. And it is one of the places that you must not miss during a holiday in this part of Sardinia.
Just like other tombs of the giants of Gallura, it was built in two main construction phases. In the first phase, which can be framed in the Bonnanaro period of culture, an allée couverte tomb was built; subsequently, in the second phase, during the Nuraghic age (about 1600 BC), the allée couverte was transformed into the tomb of the giants with the construction of the exedra and the stele of which few traces remain today.
The tomb, which measures approximately 28 meters in length and 6 in width, was excavated and restored in the 1960s.
Together with the nuraghi of Olbia (certainly more famous), also the tombs of the giants are a testimony of the Nuragic civilization in Sardinia. As the name suggests, these are funerary monuments: buildings with a rectangular plan made with imposing stone monoliths planted in the ground.
The Tomb of the Giants of Su Monte de s’Abe has a peculiarity: although it was built in the Nuragic era, it is probably the re-adaptation of a much older tomb structure that dates back to the Bronze Age, between 1600 and 1800 BC. about.
The characteristic part of practically all the tombs of the giants is the exedra facade: a semicircular hollow surmounted by a half dome. Behind this exedra extended the actual sepulchral chamber. In the case of Su Monte de s’Abe, there is a lack of the central stele that was usually found at the entrance to the tomb, right in front of the exedra.
Throughout Sardinia, about three hundred tombs of the giants have been identified. And as already mentioned, Su Monte de s’Abe represents the largest of all: even if it is still difficult to accurately calculate the territorial extent of the complex, surely the Tomb of the Giants of Olbia can boast the longest tomb body (with 28 meters and a half in length) and an imposing burial chamber (13 and a half meters long by almost one in width, and a meter and a half in height).
Church of San Paolo
The Church of San Paolo is one of the main Catholic places of worship in the city of Olbia.
The building stands in the upper part of the historic center and was built on the ruins of a pagan temple from the Roman era, perhaps dedicated to Hercules. Originally named after the Conversion of San Paolo, it was the only parish in Olbia until 1954, when the ancient basilica of San Simplicio, formerly a cathedral and outside the walls, was reopened.
The proximity of the church to the site where the Giudicale castle stood (current palace of the ex Guardia di Finanza, in Corso Umberto), whose remains were still visible in the early nineteenth century, make it considered the palatine chapel of the sovereigns of Gallura and their burial place.
The church probably dates to the Late Middle Ages, having already been mentioned in documents of the 15th century, but was heavily restructured and modified in the mid-18th century, adapted, as in other cases, to the predominantly Baroque taste.
In 1939, the building, rectangular in shape with three chapels on each side, was enlarged with a Latin cross plan, a dome (later majolica) and a transverse nave. We admire the dome covered with majolica. It was built over the ruins of the Punic and Roman temple dedicated to Melkart-Hercules. Unfortunately, it was decided to demolish the adjacent and ancient oratory of the Confraternity of the Holy Cross, which, however, will be rebuilt in the nineties.
The interior, baroque, was frescoed in the sixties by the painter Alberto Sanna (1929-2010): Resurrection and musician angels in the apse, the Via Crucis in the side walls, the illustration of the Sacraments in the intrados of the dome.
The main altar and the polychrome marble balustrade, the wooden choir and pulpit of the Venetian school, the seventeenth-century silver sandals and the crown of the Madonna Assunta, the monstrance in Sicilian Baroque style, the statues of the eighteenth century of San Paolo, San Francesco and the Virgin are all remarkably interesting. The bell tower, the sober façade and the entire external part are of Gallura granite.
Two crypts with the remains of the members of eighteen local families have recently been found in the basement of the church. As, in fact, hypothesized the historian Dionigi Panedda (1916-1989) and, still today, the architect Giovanni Fara, new research could lead to the discovery of more ancient tombs, especially from the Giudicale period.