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The Roman amphitheater of Cagliari             Source: murasal / Adobe Stock

When in Sardinia, Do as the Romans Do: The Cagliari Amphitheater

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Sardinia is a beautiful Italian island renowned for its stunning views. It is also a historic island with over 7000 prehistoric archaeological sites that date from before 1000 BC and many amazing heritage sites including the Roman Amphitheatre at Cagliari. This is one of the finest surviving amphitheaters in Europe.

Blood and Spectacle at the Roman Amphitheatre

For millennia Sardinia lay at the crossroads of many maritime trade routes. From the Late Bronze Age, the island was home to the mysterious Nuragic civilization, renowned for their stone towers.

From the 9th and through the 8th century BC, the Phoenicians established trade outposts on Sardinia until the Carthaginians conquered much of the south of the island in the 5th century BC. During the First Punic War, in 283 BC, the island was annexed by the Romans.

Much of the interior, however, was not touched by Roman rule. The Romans took over the Carthaginian settlement of Cagliari and it became the headquarters of the praetor who ruled the island. The native Sardinians of the Nuragic culture continued to resist the Romans and revolts were frequent. Over the centuries the process of Romanization continued and finally the natives adopted Roman customs and spoke Latin.

One of the Nuragic towers, South Sardinia, built in the 15-14th century BC (Andrea / Adobe Stock)

One of the Nuragic towers, South Sardinia, built in the 15-14th century BC (Andrea / Adobe Stock)

The history of the arena is not well documented, but it is believed that the Romans built the amphitheater in Cagliari in the 2nd century AD which was still in use in the 3rd century AD.  It would have been the site of games where gladiators fought and often died for the pleasure of the crowds. Most likely they would also fight wild, exotic beasts such as lions from Africa and often criminals or war captives were executed in the arena.

The arena was similar in design to other amphitheaters in the Roman world such as the Colosseum in Rome and would have been used to demonstrate the power of Rome. During the 4th century, as the western Roman World began to lose power, the amphitheater went into decline and was gradually used less frequently as Christian influence grew.

In the mid-5th century, Sardinia was conquered by the Vandals. The amphitheater fell into disuse, was eventually abandoned, and later used as a quarry by the Genoese and local Sardinian rulers. It was only in the 19th century that the amphitheater was protected and excavated by archaeologists.

The Grandeur of The Amphitheatre

This public monument is set in a natural valley and was cut into a sheer rock of the slope of the hill known as Buon Cammino. The arena was constructed in a semi-circle that allowed the audience a view of the fights as well as the executions.

The ruins and ancient corridors of the amphitheater (murasal / Adobe Stock)

The ruins and ancient corridors of the amphitheater (murasal / Adobe Stock)

There are a number of tiers where people sat to view the entertainment as the amphitheater could hold up to 10,000 people. The seating arrangement reflected the social structure of society with the best seats reserved for the local elite.  They were divided into three distinct sections for Senators, equites (Knights), and lastly the plebeians and slaves. Graffiti remains on some of the stone tier seats.

Originally, the amphitheater was lined with marble, but this was stripped many centuries ago. The original corridors of the amphitheater which were used by the gladiators to enter the arena and where the bodies of the dead were dragged away, can still be seen. Other corridors held the cages of wild animals which were killed for the entrainment of the crowd.

Visiting the Beautiful Roman Amphitheater in Cagliari

The old ruin is on the outskirts of Cagliari and offers great views. It is easily accessible, and a reasonable fee is charged to enter the arena. If you prefer, a number of guided tours are available. There are many great restaurants and plenty of accommodation near the Roman monument as well as several other fascinating archaeological sites located nearby.

Top image: The Roman amphitheater of Cagliari             Source: murasal / Adobe Stock

By Ed Whelan


Ladu, M. (2016). A cultural approach to the Historic Urban Landscape of Cagliari. Strategies of reuse and network for a new life of the public city.

Available at: Heritage 2016-5th International Conference on Heritage and Sustainable Development (Vol. 1, pp. 867-875). Green Lines Institute

Levi, D. (1942). The Amphitheatre in Cagliari. American Journal of Archaeology, 46(1), 1-9

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Welch, K. (1991). Roman amphitheatres revived- Journal of Roman Archaeology, 4, 272-281

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Ed Whelan's picture


My name is Edward Whelan and I graduated with a PhD in history in 2008. Between 2010-2012 I worked in the Limerick City Archives. I have written a book and several peer reviewed journal articles. At present I am a... Read More

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