Cagliari and its patron saint Saint Ephisius (Efisio in Italian) are the most important city and saint of Sardinia. He is celebrated on the 1st of May with a four-day procession through other places.
Since 1657 Cagliari and its patron saint Saint Ephisius are joined together by a vow. In that year it was decided to celebrate him after the end of the terrible plague that afflicted Cagliari. It is believed that Saint Ephisius saved the cities also from many French invasions, and by others, and also helped the city in several difficult situations.
Saint Ephisius lived in the 3rd century, born from a Christian father and pagan mother. He was recruited in the emperor Diocletian's troops and sent to Italy to fight Christians. According to the tradition, during the journey, one night Ephisius heard a voice from the sky which reproached him for fighting Christians and announced him his martyrdom. At the same time a shiny cross appeared in the sky and was impressed into his palm. From then on, Ephisius ceased his persecution and began to defend Christians. He was disobeying Diocletian's order and was charged with treason. He was taken to Nora, near Cagliari, tortured and beheaded on 15th January 303.
Saint Ephisius Feast
Every year there is a huge procession (it goes on for four days!) in Cagliari and Saint Ephisius is taken from Cagliari to other localities: Giorgino, Capoterra, Sarroch, Villa San Pietro, Pula and Nora, to return from here, on 4th May, to Cagliari where Saint Ephisius' statue arrives back to its church in Stampace.
Saint Ephisius procession
This is one of the most important celebrations in the Mediterranean area, for duration and distance and for the number of people involved. More than 3500 people take part in it, 200 of them riding horses, coming from all parts of Sardinia, with their traditional costumes.
The celebration actually begins on 29th April, when the statues is prepared, with clothes, jewellery, golden votive offerings. At Giorgino, Saint Ephisius clothes are changed and all the gold goes back to Cagliari. From here to Nora and on his journey back, he'll wear the votive offerings given to him by participants.
So if you want to taste a bit of this tradition, you can also go to one of those other comuni along the way.
Cagliari is the regional capital of Sardinia, with over 164,000 residents and is located the sea level, with a hill and a castle overlooking the town. It is a very ancient city, it was founded by the Phoenicians (people from what is now Syria and Lebanon), who also founded other towns in Sardinia, around 800 years before Christ.
Thanks to its position in the south of the island, in the middle of the Mediterranean sea, it was a strategic point of landing for populations travelling from north Africa across the sea toward Spain.
Indeed, over the centuries, many dominations followed each other, marking the city a variety of cultures.
Romans came and built baths, public buildings and an amphitheatre which could accommodate about 10.000 people, which is still used in summer for open air concerts and operas. After barbarians and a period of independence, it was the Republic of Pisa which ruled in 13th century. Then, from the 14th to 17th century, there was a Spanish domination, which left many traces in the architecture and even in the language. From the 18th century the Piedmontese royal family governed (their kingdom was actually called Kingdom of Sardinia) until the unification of Italy in 1861.
Cagliari is a city which boasts a very big number of churches and saints (San Saturnino and San Lucifero are among the most important ones) in its four quarters of Casteddu (castle), Villanova, Stampace and the Marina.
if you like plants, I'd recommend you to visit the Botanic Garden, where they have also many medicinal plants. When I visited it they were doing researches on Aloe vera and were willing to give the visitors some bits of the plant and a recipe about how to use it, asking in exchange only to be informed about the results obtained from its use.
Once you've visited the city with its ancient monuments and modern shops, and at the edge of the town you can find a salt pool where you can easily admire pinkflamingos, cormorants, herons and more wild birds. Then you can relax and enjoy the sea and the microscopic white sand of the Poetto beach, and follow that with an excellent meal in one of the many restaurants, especially in the Marina area, around via Napoli.
I spent some months in Cagliari when I worked there as a musician in the orchestra at the opera house, Teatro Lirico, and I really enjoyed strolling along Via Napoli and all narrow streets around there. By the way, if you love classical music and opera, you can't miss a performance at the Teatro Lirico, while you are there. They tend to present original and unusual works, very interesting programmes.
Sardinia food is quite different from other Italian food. There are many types of bread, such as pani carasau, which is very thin and dry (sometimes it's called carta da musica, that is "music paper"!), appetizers like bottarga (dried mullet eggs), followed by the panadas (pies filled with vegetrables or meat or eel).
Then you have the choice between roasted lamb or pig, or the uncountable number of pecorino (sheep milk cheese) and other cheeses. Even some desserts have cheese as their ingredient, like sebadas and pardulas. All this should be accompanied by a table wine like Monica (that's my name, I keep a bottle of it!) and sweet, dessert wines. Mind you, they are all quite strong (12° minimum!)
Don't miss the opportunity to visit Cagliari at any time of the year!
All year: Teatro Lirico di Cagliari (opera house), opera and symphonic season
February, last week: Su cancioffali (Cagliari Carnival), town criers around the city centre announcing, in Sardinian language and in rhyme, the programme of the carnival week; Shrove Tuesday, parade along the city centre streets, with traditional Cagliari masks such as: “ Is Panetteras” (the female bakers), “Is Tiaulus”, (the devils), “Su Dottori” (the doctor), “Sa Dida”, (the wet nurse), “Su Caddemis”, (the beggar). The conclusion is the trial against the Re Cancioffali (King Carnival), a proper trial with a jury and a defence, that will try everything to save the king from the sentence to the stake. Instead the trail will end with the sentence and the stake in front of a merciless jury and the jubilant crowd.
Easter: Holy Week or “Sa Pasca Manna”, the most important religious celebration and most heartfelt by Cagliari people and the many tourists: Procession of the Mysteries, Dead Christ procession; on Easter morning, "S'Incontru" (the Meeting) between the two processions takes place, the meeting between the risen Christ and the Madonna.
28 April: Sa die de sa Sardigna, a celebration which is a symbol for Sardinians who, on 28 April 1794, rebelled against the Piemontese, the last colonizers of the Sardinia island
October-December: Un'Isola in Festival, festival of all arts, theatre, dance, music, cinema
31 December: Capodanno cagliaritano, (New Year's Eve), shows all over the city centre, big concerts in Via Roma, various dj in the squares, outdoor theatre and in the historical centre theatres, fireworks displays and for the litlle ones
Hot to get to Cagliari:
Nearest airport: Cagliari Elmas at 15 minutes from city centre; Find flights shuttle bus