Su Nuraxi di Barumini
Su Nuraxi Di Barumini
Cultural Italy Europe And North America Province Of Medio Campidano, Sardinia

The nuraghi of Sardinia, of which Su Nuraxi is the pre-eminent example, represent an exceptional response to political and social conditions, making an imaginative and innovative use of the materials and techniques available to a prehistoric island community.

During the middle and late Bronze Age (c . 1500-800 BC) on Sardinia a unique form of architecture developed: circular defensive towers in the form of truncated cones built from dressed stone, with corbel-vaulted internal chambers. Some (as at Barumini) were surrounded by quadrilobate enclosures consisting of towers linked by massive walls. Villages of small circular-plan houses developed around these strongpoints.

The precise dating of the period of building the nuraghi on Sardinia is still the subject of debate among scholars, as there is some conflict between radiocarbon dates and those obtained by conventional archaeological stratigraphy. The influence of the Mycenaean tholos tombs, reflected in the corbelled roofs, now favours an earlier rather than a later dating. It is generally accepted that the central tower at Barumini dates from the later 2nd millennium BC.

The central defensive structures are considered to have been built by single families or clans. As Sardinian society evolved in a more complex and hierarchical fashion, there was a tendency for the isolated towers to attract additional structures, for social and defensive reasons. The major effort towards the extension and elaboration of the defensive works at Barumini is dated to the early Iron Age (10th-8th centuries BC) when Sardinia was exposed to Carthaginian incursions. It is significant that the larger nuraghic settlements of this type are located on those parts of the coast, or on the wide coastal plain of the eastern half of the island (as is the case of Su Nuraxi), that were most vulnerable to seabome attacks. It was during this period that the defences at Barumini and elsewhere were strengthened and the villages accreted around the central defences for protection. They became in effect small urban settlements, housing self-sufficient communities with their own range of craftsmen.

Some time in the 7th century BC, Su Nuraxi was sacked by the Carthaginians and the defensive works were slighted. However, it continued as a settlement, the houses being rebuilt in a different style. With the Roman conquest of the island in the 2nd century BC most of the nuraghi went out of use. However, excavations have shown that there were people living at Su Nuraxi until the 3rd century AD.

The principal (and earliest) feature of Su Nuraxi is a massive central tower or keep, built from large dressed stones without the use of mortar (drystone construction). It consists of three chambers, one upon the other and linked by a spiral staircase (the third is only fragmentary). The ceilings of the chambers are of corbelled construction. The structure probably stood originally to a height of at least 18.5m. The four subsidiary towers added later are linked by a massive stone curtain wall. The courtyard that they form is entered through a narrow gate at ground level on the south-east side. This was later sealed and access to the citadel would have been by means of a ladder or some other installation controlled from the interior.

These walls were in their turn enlarged and strengthened, and at the same time a second enclosure was constructed, which enclosed the domestic buildings that had been built round the keep in the intervening period. These are for the most part small, circular stone structures consisting of a single room, but one is much larger, 7m in diameter with a bench running round the inside of the walls. This is interpreted as a council chamber associated with some form of urban administration.

After the sacking of the settlement and the dismantling of the defences by the Carthaginians, new houses were built. They were in a different form from their predecessors, built using small stones and consisting of several small rooms. At a number of points they abut or overlie the earlier defences.