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The Comprehensive Guide to Sassari, Sardinia
Sassari, the second-largest city in Sardinia, is a captivating blend of ancient history, cosmopolitan charm, and natural beauty. As you delve into the heart of the city, you’ll feel as though you’ve stepped onto the Italian mainland, although you haven’t crossed the sea.
Sassari’s Rich Past
The city’s history is one of resilience, marked by numerous invasions and occupations, but also by a tenacious spirit of independence. This defiance is evident in the city’s urban, worldly appearance. It reflects a lineage enriched by mainland influences, thanks to the influx of merchants from Genoa and Pisa in the early 13th century. These merchants transformed Sassari from a humble peasant village into a bustling commercial hub.
The city’s ancient streets offer a glimpse into its rich past, with architecture that bears witness to its storied history. Despite these foreign influences, Sassari retains its unique identity, proudly continuing its tradition as a “community of shopkeepers”.
The Modern City
Today, Sassari is home to nearly 130,000 people, and it continues to hold its own against Sardinia’s capital, Cagliari. The city’s contributions to Sardinian politics and arts are notable, with several prominent figures, including Communist Party leader Enrico Berlinguer and former presidents Antonio Segni and Francesco Cossiga, hailing from Sassari.
The city’s artistic spirit is also evident in its many churches, crafted by local stonemasons, or ‘picapedras’, who imparted a uniquely Sardinian touch to the mainland’s architectural styles. This artistic flair also extends to the city’s sculptors, who adorned Sassari’s numerous churches and monasteries with countless statues and altars during the 17th century.
Festivals and Traditions
Sassari’s cultural calendar is marked by vibrant festivals that showcase the city’s rich traditions. The I Candelieri, or Feast of Candles, held annually on August 14th, is a spectacular event where towering wooden pillars shaped like candles are carried through the Old Town. The Cavalcata Sarda, another popular festival, features a parade of horseback riders in traditional costume and performance by folk groups.
At the heart of Sassari is the spacious Piazza d’Italia, framed by elegant 19th-century buildings. This square offers a fascinating glimpse into Sassari’s daily life, particularly during the evening passeggiata. The piazza is home to numerous banks and administrative buildings, where the city’s financial and political decisions are made.
Museums and Historical Sites
Sassari’s historical richness is preserved and displayed in its many museums. The Museo Storico della Brigata Sassari, housed in the military barracks attached to the castle, is dedicated to the Sardinian regiment that fought bravely during World War I. The museum’s collection includes a reconstruction of sandbag trenches and military memorabilia from the conflict.
Another must-visit site is the Museo Nazionale G.A. Sanna, which presents a comprehensive overview of the island’s archaeology. The museum’s collection includes artefacts from the island’s prehistory, the Nuragic civilisation, and imported Etruscan and Greek pottery, as well as Carthaginian and Roman jewellery.
Exploring the Old Town
The Old Town of Sassari is a maze of narrow streets and alleys, each with its own unique charm. The Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, built on the old Roman road to Cagliari, is lined with elegant palaces and residences of wealthy merchants. The Via La Marmora, known to locals as the Carra Longa, and the Piazza Tola, or Carra Manna, are other notable sites in the Old Town.
The Cattedrale or Duomo di San Nicola stands as a testament to Sassari’s architectural evolution. The cathedral’s ornately carved Baroque facade was added to a Gothic structure, which was itself built on an 11th-century Romanesque church. Inside the cathedral, the Museo del Tesoro houses an impressive collection of religious artefacts.
Pinacoteca Nazionale di Sassari
The Pinacoteca Nazionale di Sassari is home to a fascinating collection of artworks dating from the medieval period to the mid-20th century. The museum’s collection is spread over three floors and includes religious paintings, portraits of Italian aristocracy, and works of Sardinian artists.
Art, Churches, and a Park
Further exploration of Sassari leads to the grand Palazzo Ducale, the Jesuit College of Canopoleno, and the church of the Convento Cappuccini. Outside the city walls stands the church of Santa Maria di Betlem, home to the monumental candles used in the I Candelieri festival. The Giardini Pubblici, or Municipal Park, is a refreshing spot to unwind after a day of exploring.
What are the best things to do and see in Sassari?
- The historic center of Sassari is a must-visit, with its charming narrow streets, squares, and beautiful architecture. Some notable highlights include:
- Piazza d’Italia: The main square of Sassari, surrounded by elegant buildings and home to the Fontana del Rosello, a symbol of the city.
- Cattedrale di San Nicola: A stunning cathedral with a mix of Gothic, Romanesque, and Baroque styles. The interior is richly decorated with frescoes and artworks.
- Palazzo Ducale: A grand palace that houses the Sassari Town Hall and various cultural institutions. It features a beautiful courtyard and often hosts art exhibitions.
- Museo Nazionale “G.A. Sanna” is an excellent museum that showcases the history and culture of Sassari and Sardinia. It has an impressive collection of archaeological artifacts, artworks, and traditional costumes.
- Orto Botanico di Sassari is a peaceful botanical garden where visitors can explore a variety of plant species, including rare and exotic plants. It offers a serene atmosphere to relax and admire nature.
- The Museo della Brigata Sassari is a military museum dedicated to the famous Sassari Brigade. It exhibits weapons, uniforms, and memorabilia from various conflicts, providing insights into the region’s military history.
- For nature enthusiasts, Monte d’Accoddi is an archaeological site located near Sassari. It features a unique prehistoric structure resembling a ziggurat and offers panoramic views of the surrounding countryside.
- A trip to the nearby Stintino is highly recommended. This picturesque fishing village is known for its stunning white sandy beaches, crystal-clear waters, and the famous La Pelosa beach, considered one of the most beautiful in Sardinia.
- Wine lovers can explore the nearby wine region of Alghero, known for its excellent wines. Visiting local wineries and vineyards, such as Sella & Mosca or Santa Maria La Palma, allows for wine tastings and learning about the wine-making process.
This guide to Sassari offers a glimpse into the city’s rich past and vibrant present. Whether you’re a history buff, an art enthusiast, or simply a traveller seeking new adventures, Sassari is a destination that promises an unforgettable experience.