|22 May 2008 – part one
For part two click here
After a tortuous, slow and lengthy drive of some hours on some of Sardinia's many tortuous, slow and lengthy twisty turny mountain roads we finally arrived at Roccia del l'Elefante, the elephant rock.
This naturally occurring rock stands quite alone at the roadside.
We wondered if the locals had chipped bits off through the ages to make it appear more like a pachyderm. Whether it was the locals or if it was from the hand of the Great Sculpture in the Sky, they'd made a very good job because the elephantness is startling.
Ancient people also thought so, for there is evidence of this being a place they know and revered; square holes have been deeply carved into the base of it, perhaps for offerings.
It is now inhabited entirely by lizards. Watch out for the knife and tat salesmen in the layby.
The ziggurat of Monte D'Accoddi is something I'd looked forward to seeing hugely.
We'd seen a ziggurat in Syria, close to the Iraqi border three years ago. But to see something so exotic in Europe seemed very exciting to me.
It's just by the main road north of Sassari - this surely was a beacon of a place that every traveller in this corner of the island would have known in ancient times.
Just our luck then, that when we arrived, it was closed for maintenance – mostly strimming. But there was no way we were going to go away, so we promised the foreman we'd just walk around it. Of course once he'd driven off to get his lunch, we legged it up onto the top flat stony platform perhaps 10 metres from ground level.
I was so impressed with it. I thought of some of the world's greatest step pyramids – Tikal in Guatemala and Saqqara in Egypt, though it was smaller and less steeply sided than both. Perhaps it started at a simple sacred stone platform, like the marae of the South Pacific, and was added to over the generations. It certainly looked like a monument which has been successively improved and added to over the ages – the massive square cut stele next to the sloping approach ramp, the flatcapped dolmen in the 'moat' area and that crazy bonkers mad pockmarked cosmic egg... (actually more of a giant lemon) all hinted at a place in use over many, many centuries, with additions made in memory perhaps of battles, new gods, revered leaders and so on.
There is so much here to ponder and I absolutely loved it.
From the grandness of Monte D'Accoddi
, a public, community monument, we set off to find a much smaller monument, perhaps a family tomb – a tiny but perfect rock cut tomb almost certain pre-dating the tombi di giganti, called Molafa. For reasons we couldn't fathom, Julian calls it Malafa, even though on the map and on the nearby railway station it's clearly called Molafa. Following Julian's instructions it is indeed '45 paces along a verdant gully'.
Just a few metres up the path there it is cut into the rock of a low cliff face that you can reach by scrambling up. Incredibly there is a natural platform directly in front of the opening to the tomb – granted not wide, but wide enough to act as an altar or sacred, ceremonial space, not unlike an esedra or forecourt.
The opening the to tomb is carved in a quite remarkable way for it echoes the pattern of a tomba di giganti stele – that is a square opening with arched top – complete with carved mullion, as I've already said pre-dating the tombi.
I would have immediately shot into the tomb had I not been diverted by a superb and friendly lime green grasshopper who needed to be admired. Insect-admiration complete, I then dived into the tomb. About 3ms long and 2ms or so wide, it's not big. But with its barrel arched ceiling reflected in the shape of the carved arch 'gable' above the portal, and integral stone bench running around the side and back walls, it is about as perfect in its simplicity as a rock cut tomb can be. Over the centuries people have lit fires in here – the ceiling is black with a thick layer of soot. It strongly reminded both me and Moth of a scaled-down version of the rock cut chambers we'd seen at Little Petra in Jordan. They had had highly complicated designs (frescoes) painted on their lofty ceilings which centuries of Bedouin fires had blackened. I could see no evidence of that here, but if it has been decorated (and why wouldn't it have been?) this ceiling was lower and more easily damaged early on in its history.
We were delighted to have found this place. It evidently gets very few visitors and it is well worth it.
Here's that big green insect I found:
I do like rock cut tombs. So it was inevitable that the necropolis of Anghelu Ruju, not far from Alghero airport, would thrill me. I didn't really know what I'd be faced with as I entered this unassuming flat field, today sizzling in the afternoon sun; but I certainly didn't expect quite such richness, variety, ingenuity and technical rock-cutting wizardry on such a whopping and obsessive scale.
All the tombs here, and there are more than 26 of them opened up in an area no bigger than a football field, are cut directly in the rock underfoot, sculpted with slopey-down entrance passages to reach the first of (often) many small burial chambers. Further chambers morph off from each other to create a rambling honeycomb of cells and passages connected by square cut openings just wide enough for person to squeeze through. Some traces of decorative carvings remain; bull's heads, false lintels, circles and in one particularly large tomb two supporting pillars have been carved.
I imagined the paintings that I felt sure that must once have graced the walls of these cells – images of totemic animals, zigzags, stripes, and wiggly lines perhaps symbolizing water or light, stylised bulls, round discs signifying the sun, the moon and stars perhaps, rendered in ochres and umbers. It seems inconceivable that these tombs weren't decorated.
How many more of these subterranean rock cut tombs are yet to be discovered? My best guess is 'lots' and they're almost certainly not far away.
Fitz's detailed description (below) says more than I possibly can.
If you go to Sardinia, this is a 'must see'. In fact go to Sardinia just to see it. Budget airlines now go to Alghero.