Into bandit country

13 to 14 May 2017

Until very recently parts of Sardinia’s interior harboured bandits in lawless villages and it was in search of this history that we went whilst waiting for the arrival of my very own out-law, Stefan’s dad, on his long awaited holiday.

A backdrop of murder, kidnap and robbery has been part of Sardinia’s landscape since the Romans sought to add it to their empire. The last kidnap was in 1997 but the road signs used for target practice along out route inland indicate a continuing undercurrent of criminality in remoter parts of the island and a strong sentiment of resistance to outside influence on this fiercely proud farming people.

So getting lost in this bandit territory wasn’t part of the plan. Climbing into Sardinia’s mountainous interior with only the most rudimentary of road maps seemed like a good idea at the time. Although a big island there are not a huge number of roads but on the first day of our roadtrip we were soon not quite where we planned to be! After all the twisting and turning, all sense of direction was lost and we took a wrong turn somewhere.

Getting lost, however, means happening across unexpected gems – like the tiny hamlet of Rebeccu. It appeared almost abandoned as we walked through its few streets, shutters all firmly closed on the few houses. A solitary cat in the square and a bright green lizard (missing its tail) were the only signs of life. A path up hill behind the buildings gave us views across a landscape far more rugged and untamed than we had seen on the other Mediterranean islands and ideal for hideouts.

Amongst the silent houses of Rebeccu we found evidence that someone was using the deserted streets as a canvas for their artwork.

A little further down the road we found much more ancient history. Like Menorca, Sardinia is rich in Bronze Age sites. The Necropoli di Sant’Andrea Piu dates back to 3500BC. Its burial chambers and tombs carved into the rocks were claimed by the early Christians. The frescos of the Apostles on the wall dated back to Byzantine times. We still find it incredible to stand amongst so much history.

Continuing our unexpected route we also found the dramatic yet tiny town of Burgos with its castle on an improbable peak.

Having found our way back onto our planned itinerary, we had a very brief stop in the area’s main town, Nuoro and discovered some all together more modern street art before heading up to our home for the night.

We had our first night on land for three months in a brilliant B&B high up on Monte Ortobene, just outside Nuoro. Casa Solotti is nestled into the wooded slopes of this 955 metre high peak. A steep climb to the top took us through the silvery greens and greys of the trees with splashes of bright pink from the cyclamens. At the top we found a more recent site of pilgrimage, one of 19 statues of Christ commissioned throughout Italy in the early 1900s to celebrate 19 centuries of Christianity. His bronzed toe bore evidence of thousands of devotions.

But it was for the views across the Supramonte mountain range that we had come to see. From the top of Monte Ortobene we looked right across to the sheer limestone cliffs of Monte Corrasi which towers 1463 metres over the town of Oliena. We also had a great view from our balcony.

On day two we headed into the heart of bandit country, to a town notorious for its violent, anti-authoritarian past. In the 1970s Orgosolo became a canvas for political murals which seemingly cover every building in the town’s streets.

The murals started as a celebration of the 30th anniversary of the liberation of Italy but speak much louder of Sardinian rebellion against the Italian state and its bureaucracy.

Reflecting more global events, other murals talk about the senselessness of war and demand peace.

Others portray the evils of capitalism and colonialism and call for an end to inequality.

Even our morning coffee came accompanied by Tracy Chapman’s song Talking about a revolution! The rebel spirit is still strong in Orgosolo.

It was there that we learnt about the village of Pratobello, which was at the heart of the area’s resistance against the Italian state’s intention to build a military base on common land used by local shepherds in 1969. The people of the area rose up in rebellion and successfully defended their land and their livelihood.

Leaving Orgosolo we climbed up to the wooded plateau that is still used by farmers for grazing their herds. This common land is home to pigs, cows, horses and donkeys – all part of the Sardinian diet. Despite his near vegetarianism these days, Stefan had tried and enjoyed a donkey steak the night before!

Up there we visited Pratobello. Now devastatingly abandoned and decaying despite its triumphant revolution the ruins still displaying the graffiti and murals decrying the influence of Italy on Sardinia and demanding independence.

Just outside Pratobello we were thrust back again to the Bronze Age by some more roadside tombs, only the tiniest of signs indicating their presence.

Exhausted by all this time travel but far richer in our understanding of Sardinia and its people, we returned back west to Alghero – this time via the quicker and more easily identified main roads.

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