The island of Sardinia lies in the Mediterranean, to the west of the Italian mainland. It is separated from the south tip of the neighboring French island of Corsica by the narrow Strait of Bonifacio. The island forms the autonomous region of Sardinia, made up of the four provinces of Cagliari, Nuoro, Oristano and Sassari.
Geologically the island is a remnant of a rump mountain range composed of gneisses, granites and schists, overlaid by a band of limestone running from north to south and partly covered with recent volcanic deposits. The only plain of any size, the Campidano, lies between the Iglesiente uplands with their rich mineral resources to the southwest and the rest of the island, a hilly region with gentler slopes in the west and more rugged country in the east, rising in Gennargentu to a height of 1,834m/6,052ft and falling steeply down to the sea in the sheer cliffs on the east coast.
The summers on the island are hot and dry; the winters bring heavy rain.
The population, which from the late Middle Ages until the beginning of this century was decimated by malaria, is concentrated in the coastal areas. For many years Sardinia has been economically backward and underdeveloped. In the 1960s more than half the population obtained their subsistence from agriculture. Efforts to achieve a better balance, especially in the field of petro-chemicals, have met with only limited success. Recently, hopes have been pinned more on the growth of small industries and tourism. As a result, less than 14% of the work-force now obtains a living from agriculture.
More than half the population obtain their subsistence from agriculture. Corn, vine, olives, citrus fruits, vegetables and tobacco are grown in the Campidano plain, in the coastal areas and in the fertile valleys of the numerous rivers. The upland regions are mainly devoted to pastoral farming (sheep, goats and cattle). In the coastal regions fishing (tunny, anchovies, spiny lobsters) also makes a contribution to the economy.
Mining was already an important activity in ancient times. The main mining area is the Iglesiente, where zinc, lead, manganese and barytes are worked (now declining considerably). Around Carbonia there is opencast coal-mining. At present the Sardinian mining has entered a state of crisis which results in unemployment and migration.
Recent development has led to the establishment of various industries. The building of the new oil harbor nearby Cagliari is the base for new petro-chemical industry. Mining in the Iglesiente has created new industrial areas such as Sulcis in Portovesme. Other new developments can be seen in Tortoli and Arbatax, with paper-processing industries on the east coast and inland, at Ottana, a center for the production of synthetic fibres.
The extraction of magnesium and cooking salt from sea-water is also an industry of some significance.
In recent years tourism has developed into an important element of the island's economy. In addition to the established tourist areas around Alghero and Santa Teresa a very modern holiday resort has been developed on the Costa Smeralda.
Evidence of the earliest inhabitants of Sardinia is provided by the remains of numerous prehistoric settlements, in particular the nuraghi (singular nuraghe), massive towers characteristic of the island culture of the Bronze and Iron Ages which show a striking similarity to the talayots of the Balearics. Like the talayots, they no doubt served as fortresses, watch-towers and burial-places, and can be dated to the period between 1500 and 500 B.C. From the ninth century onwards Phoenicians and later Carthaginians settled on the coasts. In 238 B.C. the island was occupied by the Romans, attracted by its rich deposits of minerals. About A.D. 455 it fell into the hands of the Vandals and later became subject to Byzantium. Between the eighth and 10th centuries it was frequently ravaged by Saracen raids; but these piratical activities were repressed by Pisa and Genoa following an appeal by the Pope, who rewarded them with the grant of the territory. The traditional system of rule by four giudici (judges) in the districts of Torre, Gallura, Cagliari and Arborea was, however, maintained. In 1297 Sardinia was granted by the Pope to the crown of Aragon. Under the treaty of Utrecht in 1713 it was assigned to Austria, and in 1718 was exchanged with Sicily and passed to the dukes of Savoy as the kingdom of Sardinia. In 1948 it was given the status of an autonomous region within the Republic of Italy. Customs and traditions
Thanks to the ruggedness and remoteness of much of the island its old customs and traditions are still vigorously alive. The Sardinian language is a Romance tongue which has developed independently of mainland Italian and preserves certain archaic features.
Regular services (carrying cars) from Civitavecchia to Golfo Aranci, Olbia and Cagliari, from Genoa to Porto Torres, Olbia resp. Arbatax and Cagliari, from Livorno to Porto Torres, Olbia and Cagliari and from Naples to Cagliari.
Cagliari International Airport, 4km/2.5mi west of the town; airports for domestic services at Olbia and Alghero.