History of Alghero


See guide for highlights and historic monuments

Born as a primitive 'nuragic' village, Alghero was occupied in ancient times first by the Carthaginians and then by the Romans, and developed significant economic activity.

The village was an important milestone in the itinerary of merchants in transit between the main ports of ancient trade, i.e. from the Roman "Nymphaeus" ("Porto Conte") and the thriving “Turris Libyssonis” (the current "Porto Torres").

Foundations of 'modern' Alghero

According to historians the origins of the town date back to the first half of the 11th century, when the Genoese Doria family strengthened a fishing village on the northwest coast of Sardinia, giving rise to a port of considerable strategic importance.

The town took its name from the amount of marine plants deposited by currents along the coast, hence the name “Aleguerium”, based on the medieval Latin form (“Salighera” in Sardinian language, and “Alguer” in Catalan - hence 'algae' and 'seaweed'). See also 'etmology' further down.

Thanks to its geographical position, Alghero was important for the business which took place in the Mediterranean, therefore the Genoese had to defend it against Pisan and Aragonian attacks.

The town remained under Genoese domination until 1353, when the Catalan-Aragonian, strong with the support of the Venetians, defeated the Genoese fleet commanded by Admiral Antonio Grimaldi (1300-1358) in a bloody ship battle off "Porto Conte", occupying the stronghold.

After this, in 1354, Peter IV of Aragon (1319-1387) populated Alghero with Catalans, expelling Sardinians and Ligurians. At the same time the town was annexed by the Crown of Aragon and it stayed for four centuries under first Catalan-Aragonian and then Spanish domination.

Alghero still retains the hallmark feature of the Catalan-Aragonian time, which is manifested in the architecture of its churches,  buildings, system of fortifications, and the Catalan language. In 1720 the town was acquired by the Savoys.

Today Alghero is a famous tourist harbour, famous for the "Grotte di Nettuno", situated on the promontory of “Capo Caccia”, for its beaches, but also for its historical monuments, like the “Palmavera Nuraghe”  and “Anghelu Ruju” Necropolis.

Origins of the name Alghero

Alghero is a town born in the Middle Ages, and it seems undisputed that the etymology is derived from the Logudorese term "aliga" and the suffix “era,” presumably of Genoese or Pisan origin. So the overall meaning of the name would be a “town full of seaweeds” [1].

The etymological question was actually highly controversial, because one spoke of a possible Arabic origin, but then the hypothesis was not considered valid because, as A. Mattone writes:

"[...] 'Alguer' according to some scholars dates from the Arabic 'al-ghar' ('the cave') (...) but we do not believe that it can be in connection with an Arabic etymology" [2].

Anyway, the “Archivio Glottologico Italiano” states for certain that the town's name derives from "aliga" ("seaweed"):

"[...] About the name of Alghero, it is generally accepted that it derives from 'aliga'; and on the beach of its Gulf algae really do accumulate in large amounts.  There is no need to look at other etymologies, we will only note that, in Latin documents, the name of Alghero is written in many ways, such as ‘Allogaria’ or ‘Allagheria’ or even ‘Algaria’; while in Catalan documents the name is written as ‘Lalguer’ and ‘Salighera’ in the Sardinian language [...] " [3.

See also the Alghero travel guide.

References

1. See L. Gambi-G. Corbella, “Città da scoprire: Italia Meridionale e insulare” ["Cities to discover: Southern Italy and the Islands"], 1985: 379

2. See A. Mattone, P. Sanna, “Alghero, La Catalogna, il Mediterraneo: storia di una città e di una minoranza catalana in Italia (XIV-XX secolo” "Alghero, Catalonia, the Mediterranean, history of a city and a Catalan minority in Italy (XIV-XX centuries)", Galizzi, 1994, p. 48

3. “Archivio Glottologico Italiano”, Le Monnier, 1886: 267 note