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.
The name means 'Red Angel'. This 'red' thing is starting to nag at me.
The site was discovered in 1903 by a workers quarrying the local sandstone. 37 tombs have so far been discovered' almost all of the literature uses the words 'so far'. The site is well signposted and situated next to main road. There is a car park and an entry fee is required.
All there is to see when you enter the site is a low grassy hill surrounded by rich farmland and close to a large river, the Riu Filberta. This area is known as Fertilia. The remains of the quarry are visible along with a few loose rocks and one small standing stone. The locations of the tomb entrances are given away by little information boards above each tomb. The board tells you the tomb number, gives a plan of the tomb and provides you with a little information about the tomb. The tombs have been dated by the finds discovered within them to the Oziere culture of approximately 3300-2800BC. The tombs were later reused by different cultures including the Beaker culture.
I'm not sure if you are allowed to climb down into the tombs. I couldn't see a sign prohibiting it so I crawled through a number of them. Crawling through the chambers was a little scary, some of the chambers had props supporting the ceilings so I tended to avoid these, I also tried not to think about the dead snake my son had found the previous day. I was unable to stand up in any of the chambers; which to me would indicate that they were not used for ritual activity on a regular basis. The chambers did not seem to follow a uniform layout. "In plan the tombs naturally vary, but not infrequently a large burial chamber with smaller chambers radiating from it is reached by a long passage sloping down from the entrance steps: the passage too may have chambers leading off it. Others are much simpler. The chamber themselves may be oval or rectangular in plan, and have round or flat ceilings". Sardinia. M.Guido
One common feature of the tombs and chambers was the rectangular door with the carved recess; which was also a feature of L'Elefante and reminded me at the time of carved entrances I'd seen in Maltese temples. Many of the doors also had a carved lintel. In one of the tombs there were carved stone pillars which I presume were there as architectural feature rather than structural supports. In another tomb, whose roof had collapsed, was a carved bed. The lintels, pillars and carved bed lead you to think that design of the tombs may have reflected features found in the houses of the Ozerei people who created the tombs.
There are two sets of carvings that make this site really special. One is a set of carvings depicting 5 Bulls heads ,or protomi turine, situated above the entrance to a tomb with a 6th on an adjacent wall. The second set of carvings is within tomb XXVII. This carving consists of a pair of crescents over a set of concentric circles enclosed within a rectangular box; there are two of these carvings facing each other on opposing walls. There is much speculation as to the meaning of these carvings, the depiction of bulls heads outside of one of the tombs strengthens the arguments that these carvings are stylised versions of the bulls head and are linked to a bull cult others suggest that they may represent high–prowed ships. Unfortunately my camera packed up as I was photographing this carving so the images I have are a little rough.
When the tombs were excavated they yielded many grave goods including metal axes, beads, marble idols and many other objects, the most interesting of which to me, was a flat axe and an awl that were found to have come from the British Isles, probably Ireland.
Anghelu Ruju is a beautiful site and well worth a visit.