Nuraghe Palmavera: Examining the Legends of a Mysterious Civilization
In the 1930s, archaeologists uncovered the remains of megalith limestone structures believed to have belonged to the civilization of the Nuragic people. Known as ‘nuraghe’, these are the primary ancient megaliths on the Mediterranean island of Sardinia, and one of the most complete is the Nuraghe Palmavera, found at Alghero in the northwest of the island. Although a complex structure, the origins date back to the 15th and 14th centuries BC.
Mysterious Civilization Enduring Through the Ages
Sardinia is a breathtaking island full of flora, fauna, and natural resources. It's no wonder that its location in the Mediterranean made it one of the most sought-after islands and thus open to attack by many foreign aggressors over the millennia. As a result, Sardinia was often invaded and dominated by powerful, hegemonic civilizations such as the Spaniards, the Byzantines, the Romans, and the Carthaginians. However, before the land became entrenched with various foreign cultures ruling it, a mysterious civilization flourished on the island from the 18th century to the 3rd century BC.
Very little is known about this ancient civilization since they had no written language and left behind very few items providing evidence of how they lived. Even their name, Nuragic, is a term used based on the description of the fortress-like structures that they once built, called Nuraghe. These towering, sturdy architectural feats were constructed during the Bronze Age and are dispersed throughout Sardinia, totaling about 7000 structures in all.
The Nuraghe Palmavera
The Nuraghe Palmavera is similar to all the Nuraghe structures and is one of the largest and most important examples, after the Barumini complex. It is located on the Palmera headland, overlooking a bay the Romans romantically called the ‘Harbor of the Nymphs’ near the modern beachfront resort town of Alghero.
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Nuraghe 'Su Nuraxi' in Barumini, Sardinia, Italy, a UNESCO World Heritage Site (lorenza62 / Adobe Stock)
It is believed that Nuraghe Palmavera was built in phases starting in the 15th century BC with a main tower that stands almost 8 meters (26 feet) high and 10 meters (33 feet) in diameter, including the beehive shaped roofs. It is estimated that a village of up to 150-200 huts surrounded the tower, with only 50 existing today. A new phase of development was completed in the 9th century BC with the addition of an exterior wall and additional huts. Although built using limestone blocks and sand, the Nuraghe Palmavera was destroyed by fire in the 8th century AD, but parts of the structure remain intact.
In general, each of the Nuraghe tower structures have an entryway that comfortably accommodate an average human, but once inside, the walls of the tower soar to a height that gives credence to the legend that Sardinia was home to a race of giants. There are spiral stairs within the structure that lead to the top of the building, which looks like a terrace. The dome-like systems on the building often form a cone or beehive shape. Various wells exist throughout the building, where it is believed that the Nuragic people extracted fresh water.
Today, this Nuraghe complex is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Sardinia, along with the Nuragic complex of Barumini, which UNESCO declared a World Heritage Site in 1997.
The High Forts of the Nuragic People
Since the Nuragic people did not leave behind much viable information that would provide an idea of who they were, how they worshiped, or how they functioned in their everyday lives, most of what remains about their people is as shrouded in mystery as the Nuraghe structures.
Model of a Nuragic sandstone tower on the central altar in the public meeting hut, Nuraghe Palmavera (fusolino / Adobe Stock)
One thing that can be ascertained is that the Nuragic, like most people during this time frame, was an agricultural society. But why they built these fort-styled structures is still unclear to archaeologists and historians. Perhaps the Nuragic people were aware of how vulnerable they were to attack from foreign invaders. These structures may have enabled their military leaders to defend the people of the village. The high towers that protrude from these Nuraghe structures probably served as lookouts for village chieftains to keep a watchful eye on the seas, protecting them from pirates and other marauders.
Aside from their use as defensive mechanisms, it is believed that these structures could have also been used to store food; to provide homes for the people in the village; to serve as a place of worship; and possibly even as tombs for prominent officials.
A Nuragic Civilization Legacy
While the Nuragic civilization may be extinct and stories of their history now the stuff that legends, the magnificent stone structures that they left behind provide testament to a mighty society.
The winds of time and the volatile nature of natural disasters in the area such as cyclones, earthquakes, and tsunamis could have removed all proof of their existence. However, this people had the wherewithal to build structures that would not only keep them safe from invaders but also survive into perpetuity. Perhaps Nuragic culture's details will always remain as mysterious as the buildings that they constructed, but these structures will most likely be around for many more centuries to come.
Visiting Nuraghe Palmavera
You can visit Nuraghe di Palmavera any time of year, although opening and closing times vary according to the season. There is a small entry fee, which does not include charges for audio guides or tour guides.
The Nuraghe di Palmavera lies approximately 7.5 miles (12 kilometers) from Alghero.
Top image: A view of Nuragic complex of Palmavera. Source: Rinaldo / Adobe Stock
By ML Childs
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