Island of Giants
A Guide to the Nuragic Civilisation of Sardinia

Sardinia is sometimes called the ‘island of giants’. A name  that derives from the unique archaeology on the island: the Nuragic Civilisation. People, indigenous to Sardinia, who lived here during the Bronze and Iron Ages. But why ‘giants’? For a long time a certain type of burial monument found on the island was though to be ‘tombs of giants’ because of their size. Some are 30 m in length. We now know these were communal graves, not the graves of giants. And then the discovery in 1974 of larger than life limestone sculptures of archers, warriors and boxers – much like some of the small bronze statuettes archaeologists had found in Nuragic sites. Just very much bigger! The archaeology of the prehistoric Nuraghe people is every bit as interesting as their contemporaries elsewhere in Europe and around the world. Making Sardinia an ideal choice for anyone interested in prehistory. This guide covers the main features of Nuragic civilisation in Sardinia. 

Introduction to Sardinia's Nuragic Civilisation

Around 1800 BC, in the early Bronze Age, we start to see the signs of what would become called the Nuragic Civilisation or Culture; which lasted until about 600 BC. Archaeological evidence suggests these were not newcomers to the island, but rather indigenous people organising their communities in ways not seen on the island before.

The principal feature of this culture is the dry-stone tower, unlike anything else seen in the prehistory of the Mediterranean or Europe. Besides the towers, which range from simple isolated towers to complex fortresses with many towers, other examples of Nuragic architecture include the so-called ‘Tombs of the Giants’ and scared sanctuaries. Many of these archaeological sites are open to the public.

Nuragic people produced the most exquisite bronze figurines, and these can be seen in a number of museums around the country. But perhaps the most exceptional object produced by the Nuragic people are and the enormous stone sculptures, known as the Giants of Mont’e Prama. 

In this guide to the Nuragic archaeology of Sardinia, we cover the different features on separate pages. From the ubiquitous nuraghe themselves, to a list of the museums in Sardinia that have exhibits and displays covering Nuragic civilisation. On each of these pages we list the sites and museums that you can visit. As is the case for the rest of this website, you can save these places and create your own lists. 

In the final section we provide a suggested itinerary for those visitors to Sardinia who wish to see the best sites and a representative sample of sites. 

Nuraghe of Sardinia

There are said to be over 7,000 nuraghe in Sardinia, in various states of ruin. These are the conical dry-stone towers, unique to Sardinia. Many have surely been destroyed, and the original number is thought to be around 10,000. They range in design from single, isolated  towers to more complex structures with a number of towers surrounded by the remains of a settlement. Nuraghe Su Barumini is the best known example, the only UNESCO listed site in Sardinia. But there are many, many more to visit. 

Tombs of the Giants

Scattered throughout the island, with some variation, are the so-called ‘Giant’s Tombs’. With few exceptions, these are the only known mortuary structures for Sardinia’s Nuragic period. These structures are made up of a long burial chamber, up to 30 m,  formed by a series of vertical and horizontal  megalithic slabs creating a corridor like chamber that was then covered with smaller rocks and earth to form a tumulus. The entrance to the burial chamber is marked with a semi-circular row of standing stones, giving these Sardinian Bronze Age tumuli a very distinctive and unique character.

Sanctuaries & Wells

Archaeologists believe,  based on archaeological evidence and  the remarks of a few classical writers, that Nuragic religion centred on water. Water was not only a basic requirement for the continuation of life, it was also heavily imbued with symbolic meaning. Much of Nuragic religious architecture appears to have been focussed on springs and wells. Sanctuaries, in many cases quite substantial spiritual complexes, were constructed around sacred wells. Although each is noticeably different in character, there are many  architectural features at these sites that are the same throughout the island. 

Giants of Mont'e Prama

Discovered by chance in 1974 the Giant’s of Mont’e Prama are large stone sculptures made of limestone carved during the Iron Age in Sardinia. Some 10,000 fragments have been recovered, representing an estimated 40 statues. Currently, from these fragments, 25 have been reassembled. The sculptures stand between 2 and 2.5 m high, and closely resemble the bronze statuettes already known archaeologically from the Bronze Age Nuragic people of Sardinia. 

Nuragic Archaeology in Museums

There are a number of museums in Sardinia with exceptional collections of artefacts recovered from archaeological excavations of Nuragic sites. The most important, certainly the one with the most extensive exhibitions, is the National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari. The civic museum in Cabras, with its collection of Giants, is another must-see museum for anyone wishing to explore Nuragic archaeology. 

the Ultimate Nuragic Itinerary of Sardinia

The archaeology of the Nuragic Culture is unique to Sardinia, and not surprisingly a major tourist attraction. From the displays in the National Archaeological Museum in Cagliari to the stone sculptured Giant’s in Cabras. Nuraghe from Arrubiu to Barumini. Sacred wells and Giant’s Tombs. You could spend a great deal of time travelling the length and breadth of the island seeing this extraordinary prehistoric heritage. We present the ultimate itinerary of Nuragic Civilisation, a self-guide tour of seven days from Cagliari to Olbia.