As regards the area that surrounds Castelsardo, we can say that the city's history begins with the Neolithic period. The most important archaeological evidences of this phase in Castelsardo are the so called "Domus de Janas", literally "houses of the fairies", which are funerary buildings excavated in the rock.
The landscape around Castelsardo is characterized by the famous “Nuraghi” (ancient stone buildings), present in large numbers, and considered to have been the fortifications and control points of the territory, organized around circular huts with a hearth in the center.
Nuraghi of Sardinia
Castelsardo is located in a remarkable archaeological area of historic significance because of the presence of the most 'representative' buildings of Sardinia, the “Nuraghi”. The history of the Nuraghi and the meaning of these mighty buildings has long been debated, and there are now general agreement has been reached by most scholars as to their purpose...
It was noted that, as a rule, the “Nuraghi” are spread along the coast, which led to the conclusion that the buildings essentially had a military purpose of sighting of the enemy from the sea and also as a place of refuge for the surrounding populations. So the “Nuraghe” was not a permanent dwelling but rather a "look-out". The presence of water inside deep wells in the Nuraghi also allows us to conclude that the buildings were used when wars broke out, when the inhabitants, who lived in huts around the “Nuraghi”, were attacked and they sought refuge in them.
Between the second half of the 8th century and the 7th century BC the Phoenicians arrived in Sardinia, followed by the Carthaginians - this was the principal foreign domination of Sardinia until the arrival of the Romans, who built the first roads of the island, which are still in use today.
In Roman times there were essentially two cities - "Olbia" and "Tibula". Tibula perhaps coincides with the current town of Castelsardo, according to the geographical coordinates provided by Ptolemy (100-175 AD).
After the Middle Ages
In the 12th century the Doria family came to colonize the area. During the fighting among the Italian maritime republics they fortified the headland for commercial reasons, and called it "Castelgenovese". The Doria developed town planning, administrative and political systems in the city through a series of Statutes.
This was a period of wars and struggles, both within the family and against the Aragonese. Around 1330 Castesardo passed to Azzone Malaspina (died after 1425) and in 1354 returned into the hands of the Doria, then later Matthew Doria (died 1357) transferred the city in fief to the Aragonese in 1357.
It wasn't until 1448 that the Aragonese definitively conquered Castelgenovese, calling it "Castel-aragonese" and raising it to the rank of "Royal City", directly dependent on the Crown of Spain. This enabled the city to enjoy a relative autonomy; in fact, the statutes of Galeazzo Doria (1320-1378) remained in force and the fortifications were restored. During the same period the cathedral was built, after the transfer of the Bishop's seat here from Ampurias in 1502.
The town was occupied without interruption by the Aragonese until the advent of Savoy in 1720, when Carlo Emanuele III (1701-1773) gave it a new and definitive name "Castel-Sardo", to recall that the area belonged to the Kings of Sardinia.
Today Castelsardo is an important tourist centre based on its history, its natural beauty and its typical products. Its fortifications are still intact.
Origins of the name Castelsardo
The triple-etymology of Castelsardo is very clear, and refers simply to the various dominations during the centuries.
- At first the place was conquered by the Genoese, and more specifically by some members of the noble family of Doria (XII century), and the city was called "Castel-genovese";
- Then it was captured by the Aragonese (15th century) and it was called "Castel-aragonese";
- then finally it was the domain of the Kings of Sardinia, the Savoy, and it took the present name of "Castel-Sardo".
See also the travel guide for Castelsardo.