Olbia, in the northeast of Sardinia, is one of the entrance doors of the island. Almost all the towns of Costa Smeralda belong to its province, so when you think about Olbia, you imagine fabulous beaches and posh boutiques. At first sight, Olbia’s story seems quite recent: it is a modern town, crossed by a system of freeways and full of shops in the town centre and along its main roads. But in 1999, during the build of the tunnel along the seafront, twenty-four well preserved Roman ships were found here. They date back to the time when Olbia was a Roman harbour, even then entrance door to Sardinia.
Our trip through the ancient story of Olbia can start from here, from the time in which Sardinia was a Roman province.
Maybe we already went to shopping in the three malls outside the town, and now we are wandering in the centre, down Umberto Avenue, called “the avenue” by the citizens. We are in front of the Benedetto Brin Square. On the small isle in front of us, we see the building that hosts the Olbia Archaeological Museum, where are preserved the Roman ships. So we cross the Principe Umberto Street, and we enter the museum. The entry is free. The warden leads us to the exposition, and our visit can start. In the first room of the ground floor, we see two wrecks of the twenty-four ships found during the excavations of the tunnel. We see also two real scale reconstructions of the sections of these ships. We imagine the men who sailed on these ships and how they used the objects that we see here. Upstairs, the visit continues among earthenware pots, amphora, vases, sculptures not only of the Roman Age but also of Nuragic Age and Carthaginian Age. The similarity with the objects that we use nowadays is incredible: bowls, vases, plates, knives, coins. The modern girls would love the jewels exposed here, and there are small glass jars for ointments and cosmetics like those we put into our beauty cases. Let’s leave the museum: our curiosity about the ancient story of this city is not satisfied at all. We discovered that Phoenicians had been the first to live here. After, the town passed under the Greeks (in Greek, “Olbia” means “happy”), and then under the Carthaginians. So let’s go to see the ruins of the ancient Carthaginian town, dated back to the second half of the IV century B.C., about 2400 years ago. We go back to Umberto Avenue, and we reach Regina Margherita Square, in the middle of the avenue. From here, we walk in Regina Elena Street, and then we turn on the right in Torino Street. We enter this street, and we go on towards Ennio Roych Square. We continue on the left part of the square, and we arrive at the ruins of the defensive walls that encircled the ancient Carthaginian town. We see here the western trait of the walls, the only preserved, with the ruins of a square tower. But what did these walls defend? They defended a town of which we can see the ruins in our next stop. So let’s go back to Regina Margherita Square. From here, we enter Porto Romano Street, and we continue straight on until we see a rail crossing. We are in Nanni Street, and here, in a grassy area, we find the ruins of the ancient Carthaginian town. In 238 B.C. the town has been occupied by the Romans. They have not modified its original shape, but they have built structures like the thermae and the aqueduct. So let’s continue our journey along the Olbia past, and we stop in the Roman Age. We go back towards the Archaeological Museum. If we have a car, and we parked it in the parking of Benedetto Brin Square, it’s time to drive again. We go to see the best-preserved trait of the Roman Aqueduct, in Mincio Street. We leave the parking, and we reach the Su Mulinu traffic roundabout, then we take the first exit to enter Principe Umberto Street. We go straight on towards a second traffic roundabout, and here we take the third exit and follow the road sign for Dei Lidi Street. We follow the S. Josemaria Escrivà de Balaguer Seafront towards Tilibbas traffic roundabout. We enter the roundabout, and then enter Adige Street, the road on the right just before the overpass of Dei Lidi Street. Let’s follow this street until it becomes Mincio Street and we go on until we see the archaeological site of the Roman Aqueduct on the left. We can park the car just outside the area and enter it. In a tidy grassy area, we find the ruins of this public work dated back to the II-III century A.D. Three kilometres long, it has been built to supply Olbia’s public thermae. The structure is slightly inclined to help the water flow. Some arches and the settling tank are still well-preserved. Now we move, but we stay in Roman Age. Let’s reach the ruins of the farm “S’Imbalconadu”, just outside Olbia. We go back to Adige Street and Tilibbas traffic roundabout. Then we follow S. Josemaria Escrivà de Balaguer Seafront. We follow it to Principe Umberto Street, continue to Su Mulinu traffic roundabout, and we go straight on to Genova Street. We go on until we reach a crossroad and take the left. Then we take the first on the right: we are in Giuseppe Sotgiu Street. We continue to the crossroad with Roma Street, and we turn left in Roma Street. We enter Paule Longa traffic roundabout, and we go on in Venafiorita Street, that will become SP24. We drive to Su Lizzu traffic roundabout, go straight on and overstep a bridge: the farm is just on the right, protected by a gazebo. We have to pay attention when we enter the small path in front of the gate that closes the site because it is very steep. Here we are, among the ruins of the ancient farm, dated back to a period between the II and the I century B.C. Here we can see a central corridor, a residential area and a productive one. The farm was made by local granite blocks and maybe, considering the thickness of the walls, it had a second floor too. Now, a long trip waits for us. But we are talking about years, not kilometres. We went backwards more of two thousands of years to reach this farm, but now we go in even remoter ages, to the time in which the history vanishes into the legend. We will arrive at 4000 years ago. Let’s continue driving along the SP24, and we turn right in Castello Pedrese Street. We follow this road to an area where we can park (and, in summer, pay the entrance). From here, we walk along a pebble path among olive trees and wild pear trees. Above us, we see the Castello Pedrese. After a short walk, we reach the tomb of giants “Monte ‘e S’Abe”. Let’s open the small gate and enter the site. We don’t do it in a hurry. We don’t let ourselves distract from anything. These monuments, in the entire Sardinia, find themselves in points not casual. Is believed that these tombs are where the earth emanates some great magnetism, some powerful energy. Let’s abandon our modern scepticism for a moment. Don’t we feel anything? Does our heart beat faster, doesn’t it? We find ourselves in the exedra, the semicircular space limited by great vertical stones stuck in the ground. We are in front of the entrance of the long corridor in which the dead were been buried. These tombs, in fact, didn’t host big men but were tombs for the entire community. Unfortunately, here lacks the large central stele typical of these buildings. But we can look in the 28 metres long corridor. Let’s not be hurried. The first nucleus of this built is here since XIX century B.C. (almost 4000 years ago), so we can’t profane it with a quick visit. Let’s take some pictures and move around to catch every side of the building, but let’s take our time also to admire this space. We stay under the shadows of the olive trees, in front of the tomb, and listen: the wind sings among the leaves, producing an unexpected, pure and musical sound. We are in a sacred place that makes us feel welcomed, not like intruders.
We stay still in the Nuragic Age for the last stop of our trip in the most ancient story of Olbia, and we go to see the Sacred Well “Sa Testa”. We go back into the town driving along the Castello Pedrese Street, the SP24, and then the Venafiorita Street. We enter the Paule Longa traffic roundabout in front of the old cemetery, and we take the third exit, continuing on Roma Street. We follow the road for about 350 metres, and we enter in Ludovico Ariosto Street, on the right. We enter the first on the right, and we go on beyond the next two crossroads. Let’s follow the curve and at the crossroad, we turn right and then right again to enter the Bonacossa Street. We enter the tunnel, and keep the left, following the road sign for Palau. We go out the tunnel, and then we take the first on the right. We enter the Europa traffic roundabout, keep the left, and we take the third exit for Indonesia Street. We follow it without turning until we reach the crossroad with the SP82. We turn right (pay attention not to take Mozambico Street), continue to the “Haiti” traffic roundabout, and we take the first exit in Italia Avenue. We go on to the large Pozzo Sacro traffic roundabout. We keep the left and go beyond the first and the second exit. We move to the right and follow the road sign for Pittulongu. After the Gallura Mall, we take the first on the right, and we enter in Camerun Street. We can park here. From here, the area seems shabby, but beyond the first gate, we enter a well-cared place. We see a small wooden house and a gazebo, and all around the trees have wooden signs that indicate the species. We are curious, and so we take our time to read the name of all the trees and to observe them carefully along the way. We meet prickly junipers, holm oaks, myrtles, mastic trees, and other typical species of the Mediterranean Maquis. In front of us, there is a curvy path of which we don’t see the end. We follow it, and it seems that we’re entering a magic place. Trees and plants thicken themselves as we go on. Everyone has its sign, like the large alive herbarium of an alchemist. We don’t see the entrance anymore, or the end of the path, and it seems impossible to be nowadays, near Olbia. And finally, after an uphill, the Sacred Well “Sa Testa” appears. We are in the 1200-1100 B.C., that means more than 3000 years ago. This well is a sacred place too, dated back to the Nuragic Age. The Nuragic people has dedicated this building to the cult of the water as the source of life and healing. In front of us, we see a circular court and the circular well, in which is possible to enter across a vestibule. On the right of the court, we see some seats. We imagine, 3000 years ago, people sitting on these seats to attend to the rites and bring votive offerings. The dark entrance of the vestibule calls us, and we approach it carefully. Looking inside, we see the water that covers part of the descendant stair. Forcing the sight, we see also the end of the circular chamber of the well. Under our feet, a gutter drainage crosses the centre of the court and continues out of it, running along the side of the monument and beyond. We are surrounded by silence and by the olive trees that shade the well. There are a thousand of colourful flowers scattered on the grass. Let’s enjoy for a moment the sun that lights this secret place, before walking along the path and coming back to our time.