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.
This site was on the top of my list of Sardinian sites to visit. Who could resist a site that has been described as 'one of the most puzzling and interesting monuments in Sardinia', 'the only Ziggurat in the Mediterranean' and 'an important monument to megalithic architecture unique to the western world'? A Ziggurat is defined as a "temple tower, either stepped in tiers or spiral, symbolizing the mountain peak where the gods dwelt and where the skies met with the earth." Ziggurats are thought to represent a cosmic axis, a bridge between heaven and earth.
To reach the site I once again had to drive across the top of the island. I managed to get through Porto Torres without losing my wing mirrors or enraging the locals and found myself heading towards Sassari. You know how it is when you're driving along the road and all of a sudden you pass the place you need to be? Well this is what happened to me. The site entrance is situated on the busy 131 dual carriageway, I had managed to find the site but I then spent 20 frustrating minutes trying to back-track on myself. I don't know how many Sardinian traffic laws I broke but after a period of frenzied driving, which took me into the outskirts of Sassari, I managed to get to finally get to the site.
There is a car park and a site reception/ticket office. Once you've purchased your ticket you walk along a long path to the site. I had driven for two and a half hours to reach Monte Accoddi; my level of anticipation was so high that I almost ran down the path to the site, definitely a case of 'mad dogs and Englishmen'. After passing through a set of gates you enter the site from the south and walk along the eastern side of the monument. The man in the ticket office told me to report to the guide, so I headed down to the porta cabins at the bottom of the site.
When I arrived at the cabins the guide was showing an Italian couple around a small exhibition so I waited patiently and used the time to look at the surrounding landscape to see if I could spot any distinctive landmarks. The day I visited was extremely hot and the heat haze had reduced visibility. All I can really say about the surrounding landscape is that the monument is situated on a flat fertile plain with mountains in the far distance. The guide finished with her Italian couple so I asked her if I could look around the site. Her English was quite poor but 100% better than my Italian. She managed to explain to me that I was welcome to walk around the site as I pleased but I couldn't walk up to the platform of the monument as there was work taking place. Nay problems!
The monument itself is stunning, although the site itself could do with a good tidying-up. Basically you have a rectangular platform of 36 x 30m aligned north-south and faced with a dry stone wall construction using large, un-worked, limestone rocks, this is then surmounted by a smaller, three stepped, platform faced with smaller, more closely packed stones also in a dry stone construction. There is a 30m long, trapeze-shaped, ramp that leads from the south to the first stage and then a set of 14 steps leads you to the top platform. The top platform is 9-10m higher than the surrounding land. The site faces north and I am told that on a good day you can see the coast and the Golfo Dell Ainara from the top.
My first impression of the monument when looking up from the base of the ramp was "bloody 'ell, it looks like a ziggurat", not that I'd ever seen one in the flesh. My second impression was of the asymmetry of the structure, with the ramp leading up the right hand side. On closer examination I realised that the right hand side of the top platform had been destroyed.
When I first saw a picture of Monte Accoddi, I was stunned by the sight of a large, cup marked boulder. Having stood at the foot of the monument and taken in it's size I made a beeline for the boulder. There are two boulders, one large, one small and both cup marked. The larger boulder is cracked, two ideas immediately came to mind, an omphalos and the cosmic egg. I sort of discarded the omphalos idea due to the stones position in relation to the monument and the fact that there were two stones, I guess you can't really have two omphalos (what's the pleural of omphalos?) in the same place. The egg idea lingered. There are a number of creation myths around the world that feature the cosmic egg, the seed from which the world was born. Another idea that came to mind was that there were two stones here, one substantially larger than the other. The larger stone is a reddish colour the smaller one whitish grey. Could they represent the sun and the moon? I love days like this.
I eventually managed to tear myself away from the boulders to have a mooch around the rest of the site. A little further along the eastern side of the monument is an amazing large flat stone known as the sacrificial table. The stone has a number of perforations around it's margins which could only have been man- made. It is these perforations that have led people to suppose that they were used to tether the living sacrifices to the stone. I don't know whether any evidence of sacrifice has been found but the stone could certainly accommodate a fairly hefty victim, man or beast.
From the stone I carried on around the margins of the monument where there is ample evidence of other buildings in the form of low walls.
The rear of the monument is a good place to have a look at how the monument was constructed with most of the stonework still intact, there is also a small ramp. However this is also the area that lets the site down badly. It is being used as a dump for construction materials and debris.
Whilst I was looking at the small exhibition in the site cabins I noticed a picture and illustration of a carved stone that had been interpreted to be a crude carving of a female figure, possibly a goddess. I had presumed that this stone had been carted off to Sassari Museum for safe keeping. I was deeply shocked and saddened to find this stone lurking amongst a pile of large drainage pipes and site rubbish. The stone was cracked and chipped in two places and the cracks looked recent. I later mentioned this to the site guide but she just shrugged.
The western side also has evidence of structures surrounding the main monument and to balance the sacrificial stone, on the eastern side of the ramp, is a large standing stone. Whilst looking at the stone I was struck by the strange asymmetry of the monument and wondered if the standing stone, sacrificial table and 'egg' had some form of alignment or were just placed there with little or no thought of their symmetrical relationship to the ramp and the main monument. Perhaps this trio of stones predated the monument. The standing stone itself is beautiful, it is made of limestone and has a number of large holes caused by weathering, these holes have been occupied by snails who have secreted a sort of natural concrete which partially fills many of the smaller holes.
I conclude my circumnavigation of the site back at the base of the ramp. Unfortunately I wasn't allowed to walk up the ramp to the platform but to be honest with you I didn't mind. I didn't need to climb to the top of the platform to understand that this site was extremely special and unique. There are elements of the site that suggest that the early Sardinians may have been influenced by the cultures of the near and Middle East.
If you are lucky enough to visit Sardinia I would recommend that place this site on the top of your list. The discovery sort of the broken carved stone put a bit of a damper on my visit to Monte Accoddi.
Monte Accoddi is a world class archaeological site, and from what I saw, it deserves to be treated with a lot more respect that it is currently receiving. Happily this is not the case with the other Sardinian sites I had visited. They had all been well cared for and many were manned by enthusiastic and helpful guides.