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Phoenician & Punic Sites & Museums in Sardinia

Phoenician & Punic Sardinia

The Phoenicians

The Carthaginians

The Punic people came from Carthage, a city on the north African coast. In 540 BC, the Carthaginians started the conquest of Sardinia with an expedition led by General Malchus. The numerous bloody battles that followed between the Punic and the Sardinian-Phoenician brought the island definitively under the influence of the North African city in 510 BC, a year that, according to Polybius, preceded the stipulation of the first Rome-Carthage treaty. According to the terms of this agreement, the Romans could not trade freely on the island except under the strict supervision of a Carthaginian state official.

The Punic already seemed to frequent the island coasts before 540 BC, with whom they had frequent dealings. Towards the end of the 5th century BC, they succeeded in definitively subduing the last resistance of the local population, gaining control of the most productive areas. From this moment on, they concentrated on reorganising the territory: they exploited it intensively for its agricultural and mineral resources, which were redistributed from intermediate centres, such as Villamar, Senorbì or Neapolis, to the most important cities, and from there, to North Africa. Some of these were major trading centres, such as Tharros, Nora, Sulci and Caralis (Cagliari). Tharros is undoubtedly the best example owing to the extremely rich grave goods found in the Punic tombs. Gold and silver jewellery demonstrates the exceptional craftsmanship and high wealth of the population, while the many Egyptian amulets and scarabs highlight the extensive geographic scope of Punic trade. In Cagliari, another major Punic centre, visitors can see the necropolis of Tuvixeddu, with over 1,000 burials of the shaft type excavated in the rock – making this the largest known Punic cemetery. 

238 BC marks the beginning of Roman rule. These were the years following the conclusion of the First Punic War, in which Carthage was defeated. The North African city, having no army of its own, hired mercenaries who were paid once the war ended. However, it needed more resources to give them what they were owed, so the troops, unable to be paid, rebelled. The Romans took advantage of the delicate situation of their adversaries and invaded the island, which was left undefended and an easy target.

The last attempt to bring the island back under the rule of the Carthaginians occurred at the beginning of the Second Punic War, when in 215 BC, the Sardinian-Punic people, damaged by Rome’s economic pressure, rebelled, demanding Carthage’s intervention. The event is known as the ‘Ampsicora Revolt’, named after the man who led it. There needed to be more to regain command of the island, which remained in Roman hands.

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Phoenician & Punic Sites in Sardnia

Mount Sirai Archaeological Park

There could hardly be a more beautiful place to build an ancient city in Sardinia. The Phoenicians around 750 BC founded a centre on a small plateau from which they could observe the entire surrounding landscape. The uniqueness of the site, abandoned in 110 BC, is that it still retains its Punic appearance, as the Romans were never interested in settling here. During your visit, besides enjoying a breath-taking view, you are able to walk through the streets of the ancient settlement, wandering among the remains of houses and the temple of the goddess Astarte. You can also enter the rock-cut Punic chamber tombs through short access stairways leading to the hypogea.

Nora Archaeological Site

According to ancient sources, Nora was one of the first cities founded in Sardinia. Phoenicians, Carthaginians and Romans followed one another on this small peninsula, which established itself as an important trading centre in the ancient Mediterranean. Most of the visible structures are from its Roman phase, built between the 1st century BC and the 4th century AD. Visitors can explore the remains of the Roman city’s main features, such as the baths, sanctuaries and living quarters, in which splendid mosaics survive, and the theatre, which, given its excellent condition, is still used for concerts in the evenings during summer.

Punic Walls

By around 330 BC the port town of Olbia was under Carthaginian rule. Olbia had long been an important trading port for the Phoenicians and the Greeks. Due to its strategic position, Olbia and the Punics were frequently under attack. And it was at this time that the Punic wall was built surrounding the town. All that remains is a well preserved portion of the west wall – a section 64 m long made of impressive, large regular blocks of stone. Visible features include a tower and a door. During excavations archaeologists found a storage tank lined with waterproof mortar, thought to be a water storage tank. This has been covered for protection.

Temple of Antas

One of Sardinia’s most iconic archaeological sites, the columns of the reconstructed Roman temple are widely used to promote the islands great attractions. The area had long had sacred and religious associations. Close to the base of the temple archaeologists excavated three tombs dating to the Nuragic period, between the 9th and 8th century. Directly in front of the temple, and partly covered by it, are the foundations of a Punic temple that was constructed around 500 BC. Besides interestingly complex archaeology, the temple is in an archaeological park that located in a picturesque valley.

Tharros Archaeological Site

The city began as an ancient Phoenician trading centre, established around the 8th century BC. It is known for its extremely rich grave goods, mainly from the Carthaginian period, between the end of the 6th and 238 BC. The Romans modified the urban layout, building the structures necessary for city life. As a result of numerous excavations that have taken place at the site since 1850 it is possible to visit the ruins. Visitors retrace the ancient Roman road system while exploring what remains of the settlements, such as the iconic columns over the sea of the tetrastyle temple.

Tuvixeddu Necropolis

The hill of Tuvixeddu is home to one of the largest necropolises in the entire Punic world, with more than 1,000 burials. The most important of these are the ‘well’ burials, which consist of vertical entrances dug into the rock, between 3 and 7 metres deep, with small chambers opening onto the walls in which the dead were laid to rest. The necropolis dates from the 6th to 4th century BC, although it was reused by the Romans until the early imperial period. In 2014, with the creation of the park, the area became public, but despite this it remains impossible to see the interior of the most famous Punic chambers, due to the impossibility of making it easy to enter.

Museums with Phoenician & Punic Collections

Antiquarium Arborense, Oristano

Founded in 1938 but based in the Palazzo Parpaglia since 28 November 1992, the museum houses some of the most significant antiquarian collections on the island, with artefacts mainly from Tharros. The museum tour is structured on two different floors: the ground floor hosts an engaging exhibition on forgeries derived from Nuragic bronze statues and tells the human history of the Oristano territory, from the Neolithic to the Roman and early medieval periods; the first floor houses the other rooms, one dedicated to archaeologists and Efisio Pischedda, former owner of the museum’s most important private collection, one to retables, with important paintings dating from the 13th to the 16th century, and a tactile room for blind people.

Archaeological Museum Ferruccio Barreca

The museum has been open to the public since 9 January 2006, and houses numerous artefacts related to the ancient city of Sulky, which lies beneath modern Sant’Antioco. The centre was founded by the Phoenicians towards the end of the 9th century BC and was one of the most important trading ports in Sardinia throughout antiquity. The museum tour is narrated in three rooms, which respectively display the finds of the settlement, the necropolis, and the tophet, i.e. the three main nuclei of the urban settlement. Phoenician, Punic and Roman artefacts are displayed in the showcases, which attempt to narrate the different aspects of society, related to daily life, religious, funerary and sacred contexts.

Archaeological Museum of Olbia

The archaeological museum in Olbia celebrates hundreds of years of history in Sardinia’s north-east area. Located in the city’s harbour, this modern building was designed with portholes and walkways to reflect Olbia’s history as an important port. The permanent display take an extensive view of the various periods of Olbia’s past, from the Phoenicians, Greeks, to the Punic and Roman eras. Pride of place in the museum are the conserved remains of Roman boats that had sunk in the ancient harbour and discovered again during the construction of the museum building.

Archaeological Museum, Alghero

Inaugurated on 22 December 2016 inside a historic building dating from the 15th-16th centuries, the museum displays a vast array of objects relating to the history of Alghero and its surroundings. The exhibition plan, which is extremely clear and well marked, is structured around three thematic areas: the sea, ways of living, and the world of the sacred. The finds come from marine, settlement and sacred-funeral contexts, covering an age from the ancient Neolithic to the 17th century AD. Some of the reconstructions of the excavation contexts inside the museum are incredibly engaging, such as that of one of the rooms of the Roman villa of Sant’Imbenia, recomposed inside with the colourful and precious marbles that adorned it.

Civic Archaeological Museum of Cabras

The Museo Civico “Giovanni Marongiu” – Cabras opened in 1997 exhibiting the local history of the Cabras municipality (including the Sinis Peninsular), from prehistory to medieval times. Artefacts come from Neolithic, Nuragic, Phoenician-Punic, Roman and medieval sites in the area. Two notable displays include the Roman shipwreck of Mal di Ventre, dated to the 1st century BC, and a small collection of the large stone statues, the ‘Sardinian Giants’, recovered by archaeologists at the Nuragic necropolis of Mont’e Prama.

National Archaeological Museum, Cagliari

Given the quantity of objects from all over the island, this museum is certainly the most important in Sardinia. Since 1993 it has occupied one of the buildings in a complex known as the ‘Citadel of Museums’, built within the district of Castello, reusing the space of the ancient medieval walls. It houses more than 4,000 objects that tell 7,000 years of history, ranging from Prehistory to the Early Middle Ages, in an itinerary that is divided over 4 floors, each with different themes. In the collections visitors can admire statuettes of the mother goddesses, Nuragic bronze statues, a large part of the Nuragic giant statues of Mont’e Prama, as well as Punic and Phoenician jewellery and Roman statuary.

National Museum Giovanni Antonio Sanna, Sassari

Sassari has one of the most important museums in northern Sardinia, by virtue of its diverse collections and the numerous exhibits that have enriched its showcases over the years. It was initially built in 1878 to house the collection of antiquities that belonged to an industrialist and politician from Sassari from whom the museum takes its name. In 1932 the present site was built, and now housing some of Sardinian history’s most representative artefacts, starting with those from the Palaeolithic period, dating back 500 thousand years. A large room is dedicated to artefacts from the Nuragic period, in which the characteristic figured bronzes are displayed. The last part of the exhibition is dedicated to the Roman and early medieval period, with numerous artefacts from the nearby site of Turris Libisonis.