The hidden world of caves

Grotta del Miracolo - Baunei

The hidden world of caves

There is a special way to visit the deep heart of Sardinia, through tunnels carved out of the rock
theatres of tales, myths and fantasies

They guard masterpieces of nature, hide secrets, preserve the memory of legendary inhabitants. They still host some of them in their meanders and sometimes they talk. Like sa Oche, ‘the voice’, that howls, ringing out in the valley of Lanaitto in Oliena, generated by the air currents moving in the ‘twin’ cave of su Bentu. A short distance away, the words of Grazia Deledda, from her novel ‘L’edera’ (The Ivy) and from nineteenth-century tales can be heard, halfway between reality and legend, in the setting of the Corbeddu Cave. It was the home of a ‘gentleman bandit’, from whom it got its name and who transformed it into a tribunal of his own. Some of the oldest human remains ever found on a Mediterranean island come from here. Ispinigoli, in Dorgali, and its 38-metre high ‘column’ are also surrounded by original stories. Who knows if the 60-metre-deep hole at the bottom of the cave was really used for human sacrifices, to the point of earning itself the name of ‘abyss of the virgins’. In this area, the passage down from the mountains to the sea is short and there are also legends linked to the sightings of the monk seal: whether or not they still frequent the Gulf of Orosei is a mystery, but they undoubtedly lived around Cala Gonone, in the Grotte del Bue Marino (Sea Oxen Grottoes), named after them. The ‘room of the beaches’ was a safe haven for giving birth and weaning their pups. The Neolithic peoples also gathered here, in the same ‘rooms’, just above the level of the water, where the Cala Gonone Jazz concerts have been held every summer for decades.

Grotte di Nettuno - Alghero
Grotte Is Zuddas, sala dell'organo
sudden enchantment, between the rocks and the sea

Silence reigns at Ulassai, in the impressive rooms of the spectacular Cave of su Marmuri, one of nature’s true masterpieces. On the subject of underground wonders, the Supramonte of Baunei is no exception: the Grotta del Fico cave, where a fig plant hanging from the cliff overlooking the sea welcomes you at the entrance, along with some little goats climbing on the rocks. Then there is the cove of Cala Sisine, behind which the local shepherds discovered another cavity that they baptised su meraculu, the Miracle cave, perhaps because of the scintillating play of light or the endless series of natural sculptures there. The work of man is also evident there, with graffiti dating back to the Palaeolithic age in the Grotta Verde at Alghero, particularly anthropomorphic depiction, which is the most ancient discovered in Sardinia. The cavity ‘pierces’ the cliffs of Capo Caccia, a coastal part of the Porto Conte park and a place where mythology and sea blend together: the Grotte di Nettuno (Neptune’s caves) demonstrate this and the enchanting little lake is part of the sea god’s realm. The same goes for the colourful ‘gardens’ of gorgonians and corals in the cave of Nereo, hidden tens of metres down beneath the surface of the water and composed of numerous enchanting underwater rooms, dedicated to his daughters, the Nereids.

Grotte del bue marino - Cala Gonone - Dorgali
Grotta Su Marmuri - Ulassai
Grotta santa Barbara - Iglesias
shelters for prehistoric peoples, fairies and bandits

The ruins of a Roman road bear witness to the fact that the valley of Fluminimaggiore, where the temple of Antas stands - first Punic, then Roman - was directly connected to the ‘archaeological room’ of su Mannau and it is no coincidence that there are prehistoric and Nuragic ruins in the same valley. Along the way, you will travel through thousands of years of history until you get to the cave, a spectacular show of nature, with its ponds of crystal-clear water and all kinds of stalactites and stalagmites, where the pre-Nuragic people, in the light of dim oil lamps, performed their rituals. Numerous 'fractures' in the rock on the Island were the place of ancient cults, also in the countryside of Morgongiori, where a spectacular staircase carved in the basalt by the Nuragic people opens up at the bottom of a crevice, with a body of water at its base. The name refers to the ritual function: sa Scab’e Cresia, the church staircase. The rocky cavities were also the realm of the Janas, who were part fairy and part witch. Their domus, where they dedicated their time to household chores, especially loom weaving, are scattered all over the island. Three of them chose to live among the enchanted landscapes of Sadali, in a cave that gets its name from them: is Janas. They are still there, after being turned into stone as a divine punishment, now three imposing stalagmites, along with columns, draperies and statues, which look like furniture and kitchen utensils, under a ceiling of white stalactites.

Grotta Ispinigoli - Dorgali
natures masterpieces and places of worship

Inside is Zuddas, white is again the unmistakable feature: the eccentric thread-like formations branch in every direction like white filaments, embroidering the walls of the main room, along with ‘cannulae’ (tube-like elements) and ‘rock flowers’. We are in Santadi, in the Sulcis-Iglesiente area, land of the mining era, where it is easy to come across spectacular caves and their distinctive features. At Domusnovas, in the fairy-tale woods of Marganai, a cavern opens up-the tunnel of San Giovanni: it is the longest ‘carriageable’ cave in the world and gets its name from the fact that, during the Middle Ages, it contained a chapel dedicated to the saint. A spiritual element is also linked to a nearby cave, not far from Iglesias: in 1952, a few miners, while digging a tunnel, found themselves before a celestial vision, leading them to link the cavern to a cathedral and dedicate it to their patron saint, Santa Barbara. It is the oldest cave in Italy and its walls are covered with rare baryte crystals. The path leading to it winds through the part of the mine where the digging took place: there is a first section on the mining train, then a lift and lastly a spiral staircase. No ‘artificial’ interventions have taken place in the cave, which is intact and protected, and is a work of art to be carefully preserved.