|26 May 2008
Our first stop today was the Santa Cristina well temple, a long drive from our apartment on the north east coast. Thankfully there's a fast road. (It's pretty much the only one in Sardinia, though.)
The well temple is part of nuraghic complex but we couldn't be arsed with the rest of the site because we had so much to see on our itinerary (and as discussed in a previous blog, nuraghis don't light our candles.) So we homed straight in on the well.
There's a small peep hole about the size of a football directly above the well at ground level through which light passes. Apparently, when the moon shines over it at one point in its 18.6 year cycle it completely fills the hole. (Sound familiar, Callanishistas?) I managed to suppress my horrible small girl urge to spit through it and listen for the splash at the bottom.
To get down to the well you pass through a trapezoid-shaped hole and decend down into the ground on a stone staircase. The steps and the corbelling is so fresh and crisp that you feel it could have been built yesterday, though Julian in TME says that this is original stonework. If he's right, then this is truly astonishing. Likewise the beehivey conical corbelling leading up from the well to the peephole at ground level – incredible stonework. It really does look modern.
I descended down the crisp, steep staircase (suppressing further girlish urges, this time to kick out my feet and sing "New York, New York") about 3 metres below ground level to the water. Down there it was refreshingly cool; perhaps 10degC lower in temperature, but then it was 35degC outside.
Though I'm not big into wells, this one's a must-see.
We pressed on to Mura Cuada tombi di giganti in the midday heat, which is right by a railway line. If you do follow Julian's instructions to reach it, as Sals says, DO NOT walk on the railway line! Trains run on this line. We walked just to one side of the track out of the way of any passing rolling stock. Julian is spot on with his '355 paces' though.
What a surprising place it is; less of a tomba di giganti and more of a Menorcan naveta with arms! This tomba has no stele; instead it has just an entrance hole in the front wall, which forms a very curved forecourt.
Moth squeezed inside, but I was not wearing clothing suitable to join him in there. He said he could easily stand up and it was exactly like a naveta.
With no shade, the sun hammering down and a perilous walk back to the car beside the railway line in store, I didn't hang about.
Following Sals' wonderful instructions we made our way the short distance from Mura Cuada to Perdalonga 'e Figu tomba di giganti down a very narrow track with big stone walls all overgrown with thick vegetation.
The thick stele is cracked and broken vertically so that only one side of it remains up with the top arch curling over like Hokkusai's tsunami wave or a giant F.
Most of the tomb section is gone, though there is a lot of rubble under hoof and one or two stones lurking higgledy piggledy in the grass. Some of the tomb material seems to have been assimilated into the wall beside the lane.
Like at Imbertighe
the forecourt area seems to have been constructed like wall from big blocks of stone rather than a line of standing slabs
Not far away is Imbertighe tomba di giganti.
I'd noticed at nearby Figu
that the stele (or what was left of it) seemed chunkier than the stele at tombi further north. At Imbertighe this regional stylistic difference was confirmed to me. The stele here was chunkier too – bigger, thicker, deeper and with far deeper carving. The depth of the carving was about 9". Up north, you're lucky to get an inch.
Imbertighe still had its curved arms. Like Figu, these were constructed from big blocks rather than a line of slabs. Not much of the tomb remains – through the deep meadow grass we detected a few stones, but nothing grand.
Within a kilometer of Imbertighe is the chunky-stele of Santa Bainzu tomba di giganti.
It lacks flanking slabs and only has a little rubble each side and vestiges of tomb material behind it. It's that whopping stele, standing there all alone in the field which struck me.
I could see that thickness of width in proportion to its height again, (in Bainzu's case 3.24ms high).
We had some trouble finding the prehistoric complex at Tamuli.
We should have approached from Macomer but we tried to cut cross country on roads with no signposts. Mistake. Eventually we found it, all shut up and with the gate locked. So we simply vaulted over. There are three tombi di giganti here, lined up in a row on a hillside. Sadly little more than their ground plans remain. But trashed tombi are not why we came. We came to see the Betili - and they didn't disappoint!
There are six standing stones, conical and pointing out of the ground like bullets and all absolutely round in section. Quite phallic. And the best bit is that three of them had small breasts carved on them.
And the more I looked the sillier these (no doubt once serious) fertility totems became. At one moment they were froglets from the Clangers, the next they we giant mudskippers poking their fishy heads up. I loved them; I'd seen nothing like them before and they left me wondering about a whole bunch of questions which I've long given up thinking about other monuments for lack of answers. In the case of these betili, questions like: were they painted or perhaps anointed with liquid – milk, blood or something else, like the Shiva lingam are in India today. Were they dressed or decorated at ceremonial times? How were they used? And so on…
We drove on to the village of Birori where a load of monuments featured in Moth's research. None of them looked very spectacular, but with so many clustered in one area it was worth a punt. I was also hoping they'd be a café or bar there as I really fancied an ice-cream, but as with so many Sardinian villages – even the big ones - they are one-horse towns but the horse was shot years ago.
Tucked away on a piece of rough ground in a housing estate are the remains of Palatu tomba di giganti. Much of the shape of long corridor is still up and we noticed two transepted chambers immediately behind where the stele would have been. The ground plan, including the arms embracing the forecourt was cleary visible.
Next on the list was Lassia tomba di giganti – and although we found the field we couldn't see it. The grass was very high. By this time it was too hot to muck about stomping around to find well something possibly a bit underwhelming so we moved on.
It looked as if there had been some kind of civic push to highlight Birori's archaeological heritage some years ago – I noticed more than 20 sites marked on an information board at Palatu. But perhaps the visitors didn't come or the landowners couldn't be arsed with it for again when we got to Sarbogadas to look for the dolmen there, we found nothing. (I note Sals and Beardy had more luck - and it seems we were looking in the wrong place!) Moth found a small broken sign for the Noazza dolmens, but the track had been deliberately barricaded with dry spikey branches and thorny sticks.
It's worth noting that the land round here is littered with nuraghes. But we ignored them. Earlier in the day,after we'd seen the Santa Cristina well, we even drove up to the 'show site' Nuraghe Losa fully intending to visit, but in the end we could be arsed. Towers and series' of walls just don't get us going. Same with castles. Ho-hum.
After Birori failed to deliver the riches we'd hoped for, we thought we'd end the day with something more unusual – some more betili.
High on a hill at the back of the town of Silanus in the grounds of the chapel of San Lorenzo are five more of these short bullet shaped standing stones. One stands in front of the chapel and four clustered behind. So randomly placed are they we felt they were originally more.
None of the stones had breasts or froglet eyes, like at Tamuli
, and one had been broken off half way down. But one has a huge slit carved long its top – deliberately made - and looking very phallic. We both felt that this slit carving was original. After all if you were a 16th century xtian, looking to destroy the nasty pagan stones, you'd hardly go about doing so by making it even more cock-like would you?
We wondered why the betili were here, so high above the town. Then as we returned to the car I found out why – I could hear the sound of running water. There was a spring.