|Cagliari's origins are lost in the mists of
time, and cannot be attributed to one civilization.
The first reported human settlements belong to the prehistoric era, and they were spread out over a large area, suggesting that this was not one compact nucleus, but rather a collection of sites. The hills of Sant'Elia and San Bartolomeo bear traces of these ancient ancestor, dating back to the 4th and 3rd century BC. The excavations made on the hill of Monte Claro have brought to light remains of the progression of a civilization between 1700 and 1550 BC. This was known as the 'nuragic civilization'.
The Phoenicians were a race of adroit merchants. They began to use the gulf of Cagliari as a landing point in the beginning of the 10th and 11th century BC. They truly settled here in the 8th century when they began to make homes on the promontory of Sant'Elia and the lagoon of Saint Gilla . According to several scholars the etymological roots of Cagliari are probably derived from this group of people: Karel, a Phoenician word, means 'city of God', or 'large city'; ancient sources record the name in the plural, ie Karales, written in other documents as Calares.
However, Cagliari could still not be called a city in terms of being an urban center. This significant change could only have taken place when the Carthaginians arrived in the 6th century who slowly gave this area a more urban look and feel, rather than the discontinuous, casual settlements that were there before. Religious buildings were constructed along with homes, necropoli, and water cisterns. The city was extended along the coast from the hills of Bonaria, until the area which today hosts the quartiere of Sant'Avendrace.
Cagliari was blessed with agricultural produce from Campidano but also with a local production of salt, the city was set to become a center of activity with an intense commercial life. It was linked by sea to Tunisia, as well as France and Spain, it was also under punic control. There are many indelible signs of their work and activities. Traces of the religious life are visible in the terracotta votives of Santa Gilla, in the Necropoli di Tuvixeddu, in the Temples of Via Malta, Bonaria, and in the Tophet that stands in San Paolo, also in the military votives in the walls and towers.
The fact that the Carthagians preferred to move around the plains leads to the assumption that the Castle was not used as a real acropolis at that time.
The city moved to Roman hands in 238 BC, but it still reserved all of its attributes as a commercial center. Rome, like Carthage preferred the planes to the hills or the gentle slopes, favouring a development of the city, which was lengthwise without moving too much inland. This did not prevent roads from linking the city with other cities such as Tibula (nowadays known as Santa Teresa di Gallura) or Olbia, Porto Torres, encouraging not only commercial activities, but also the movement of legions who were employed to oppose the autonomous resistance of the inland such as Barbagia. In 46 BC Cagliari, the 'barn of Rome' and the capital of Sardinia, hosted Julius Caesar, who erected the municipium, giving it a great deal of importance. Rome made Cagliari a city of high rank; it had many paved roads acqueducts, sewers, thermal baths but there were also many prestigious buildings such as the magnificent Anfiteatro built in the II century AD or the Villa di Tigellio dating back to the period between the era of Augustus and the 4th century AD and the area of Marina was transformed into a fortress. There are several other important constructions eg. the Grotta della Vipera created in the 1st century AD, where the Roman woman Attilia Pomptilla.
With the fall of the Western Roman Empire, Sardinia was under the dominion of the Vandals from 455 to 533 and Cagliari was the place of exile and deportation. The Byzantines came next, but their government and their administration was not well tolerated, which helped the arrival of the Goths (552) who lost control of it in 578 when the Byzantines took possession once again.
More significant traces of the Byzantine dominium were found in the area which today houses the Orto Botanico, in the Chiesa di San Michele, where the Orthodox religion was practiced, and the Basilica di San Saturno. This was the long period of peace, during which time the city of Cagliari became the center for the spread of Christianity.
The continuous raids of the Arabs undermined the stability of the city but also hindered any contact with the outside, this brought about what became known as the judicial period, during which Sardinia ruled itself. The frequent Saracen raids led the inhabitants of the coast to seek refuge inland; Cagliari avoided setting the headquarters in the city, but established it in the outer zones, such as Santa Igia, facing Stagno di Santa Gilla this led to a grave decline in the urban center.
Illiteracy was widespread and a solution was sought for the profound educational ignorance that existed in all levels of society, new contacts were sought, both commercial and cultural. In this way Pisa was able to have a deep impact on the island. Pisa understood straightaway how much security could be offered by the surrounding hills of Cagliari, under Pisa's control the city was radically transformed, modeling its administrative and judicial system on that of Tuscany. The construction of the surrounding walls that separated the castle (Castellum Castri) from the rest of the city was very significant: the castle was isolated from the city and it became the headquarters for public offices and the home of the Pisans: it was entered by three main gates: Porta del Leone, Porta dell'Elefante and Porta San Pancrazio. In order to better defend the port, the areas of Villanova, Marina and Stampace were protected by city walls; the walls of the castle were reinforced and two towers were built: Torre di San Pancrazio and Torre dell'Elefante. With the arrival of the Pisans, Cagliari became one of the most splendid examples of military architecture of the Medieval Age.
In 1324, the Aragonese attacked Cagliari and the treaty between Pisa and Aragon signified the beginning of Aragonese domination. The new conquerors installed themselves in the area of Castedd'e Susu (Alto Castello) and Cagliari became the home of the viceroys. All the commercial activities, in the area of Castedd'e Susu were moved to Marina. Pietro IV of Aragon introduced according to his model used in Barcelona: parliament composed of three classes or Stamenti: the military, the church and royalty, the Pisan rules and laws were nullified. A tough and severe discriminatory law prohibited access to the castle to locals admitting only to Catalans, Majorcans and Valencians who held all the public offices and duties. Aragonese rule brought about the formation of trade guilds or Gremi and the construction of a synagogue by the Jewish community.
In 1479, after the union of the crowns of Castalia and Aragon, the Castilians reached Sardinia and this led to one of the bleakest periods in its history. During the whole of Spanish rule the classes that were excluded from ruling, would launch continuous attacks against the ruling powers in order to obtain public offices and duties. There were many intrigues, conflicts, assassins and ambushes against Sardinian nobility and the Spanish crown.
In the second half of the 1600s, the killing of the Marquis of Camarassa (accused of having pushed through the request of assigning offices and prefectures to Sardinians) highlighted the first phase of the separation of Spain from Sardinia, (Sardinia totally broke away at the beginning of the 18th century with the outbreak of the war of Spanish Succession). There were two opposing factions in Cagliari: one in favour of Austria and the other in favour of Spain. The dispute between the two pretenders to the throne ended in 1708 with the arrival of an English-Dutch fleet that bombarded the city and occupied it without any serious difficulties. The viceroy was constrained to hand the island to the Austrians who resided there for a short period only, but the return of the Spanish was just as fleeting. The treaty of London (1718) gave Sardinian into the hands of Duke Vittorio Amedeo II of Savoy.
Under Piedmontese rule, at least at the beginning, the city (home to the viceroys) was not subject to major changes, except the reduction of commercial traffic. Only later did the Piedmontese become interested in the city improving the civil works and carrying out operations to improve sanitation: the Jesuit college of Santa Croce was also enlarged, changes were made to the Viceregal Palace, work took place upon Basilica di Bonaria, and the Chiesa di Sant'Anna was built. The bastioned walls of the city were strengthened.
During the French revolution, Cagliari was attacked on the 18 December 1792, but when the French tried to occupy her, they were by Sardinian militia under the command of Girolamo Pitzolo.
Strengthened through this win of the people, the Stamenti made requests of the king, among which the most important was the old question of the Sardinians gaining public office. This request was denied. On the 28 April 1794, Cagliari was the scene of an anti-Piedmontese uprising that led the viceroy to take refuge in the Archbishop's palace. On May 7, the Piedmontese were chased from the island and in order to commemorate this event, a festival known as Sa die de sa Sardigna takes place every year. Although the Savoiard king tried to satisfy the ancient requests, his attempts came to nothing. The anti-feudal revolts grew stronger and more intense, during these, Giovanni Maria Angioy emerged as an important figure, his intention was to proclaim a Sardinian Republic through an anti-government revolt. The revolution failed however, and the independents of the era were hanged at the gallows, all except Angioy who was forced into exile in France. During the Napoleonic wars, the Piedmontese court chose Cagliari as its home when the French army arrived at Turin, because the island had not yet been occupied and was easy to defend. The court returned to Piedmont in 1812, leaving Carlo Felice as viceroy; he began his government with the building of roads among them the Cagliari-Portotorres. In 1847, the Sardinian people asked King Carlo Alberto for the right to be "pareggiati ai sudditi del continente" 'given the same rights as mainland subjects'. The King was urged on by many demonstrations and eventually signed the act of unification between Sardinia (who had up until then enjoyed a certain amount of autonomous rule) and Piedmont the island now had civil and penal legal codes, the offices of Viceroy and the Royal Secretary of State and War giving light to a new dawn which in the following decades was to become the Kingdom of Italy.
With the unification of Italy, the city developed markedly, gradually taking on a modern aspect, increasing the value of the port and encouraging commerce; but this development was abruptly interrupted with the outbreak of the Second World War, during which Cagliari, ironically condemned by so much acclaim was almost raised to the ground by Anglo-American bombings in February and May in 1943. The inhabitants were forced to take refuge on the mainland to escape the tragedy, only returning once the damage was over in order to reconstruct from the ruins, the city that we see today. The haste with which the rebuilding took place meant that Cagliari grew in a very disordered way, encountering problems of urban identity and almost completely neglecting its rich historic and artistic inheritance. Only in the last few years has there been a rediscovery and appreciation of a past that seemed to have been buried and forgotten.