An authentic “Catalan” seaside village on the Italian island of Sardinia, Alghero offers up myriad colours and landscapes, sunshine and mild temperatures throughout the year, stories and legends of ancient civilisations, the sound of the time-honoured Catalan-inspired dialect, the fascination of sailing, and the attraction of extreme sports, to say nothing of the hiking, trekking and cycling excursions, alongside the traditions of ancient flavours revisited in a contemporary style…and then there is the sea, which is very much the heart and soul of the city. Alghero welcomes you to the north-west of the wonderful island of Sardinia.
Visiting the old town
When you walk through Alghero, around its ancient walls and along its delightful cobbled alleyways, you can feel that unusual fascination that only seaside towns can offer. The sea is an ever-present feature of the landscape, always no more than a stone’s throw away. The tourist port plays host to large-scale yachts alongside colourful little fishing boats, and the whole place is immersed in the shapes and shades developed over the town’s long history, with a multitude of relaxing spaces where you can re-charge your batteries like never before.
The old town, the history of a “fortress-city”
Along the cobbled streets of the old town, on the facades of the buildings, amid the two-light windows and the walled gateways, you can find both the image and the history of Alghero. It is a “Catalan” history encompassed within the town’s time-worn walls, caught between the hinterland and the sea.
“Beyond the shore, as you look up from the base of the walls of this town enclosed by ramparts, you find Gothic rocks, bell towers, domes, the bastions of a citadel and the roofs of the white houses (…) and my spirit returns sweetly to Barcelona”
G.C. Vuiller, Les Iles oubliés
Along the cobbled streets of the old town, on the facades of the buildings, amid the two-light windows and the walled gateways, you can find the image, the history and the identity of Alghero – you are immediately transported to Catalonia. It is Catalan in the architectural and urbanistic details, and in the local dialect of its inhabitants, which is an expression of a still vibrant and vital sense of belonging to, and communality with, the motherland. The same language is spoken by the walls of the city, the architecture, the styling of its churches and its oldest buildings.
Fortified by the Genoa-based Doria family in 1102 to make its holdings in north-western Sardinia considerably more secure, Alghero immediately became the focus of attempts at conquest.
The republic of Pisa, first and foremost, endeavoured to relieve the Genoese of the stronghold of Alghero. They succeeded in 1283 but just a year later the Genoese were once again in control. In the walls and streets of Alghero, there are few visible signs left of the Doria period, because the whole of Alguer Vella (the old town), as the inhabitants still call it, encapsulates another history…
On 15 June, 1354, Peter IV of Aragon, known as the Ceremonious, appeared in the bay of Alghero with more than 90 galleons. After a siege lasting many months, Alghero became Catalan. Following the expulsion of the original inhabitants, the city was repopulated by people from the Iberian peninsula: thus began the long Catalan history (14th-18th centuries) of Alghero. This history is written on the walls, and immediately became the history of a fortress.
A safe, secure haven in northern Sardinia, for the Catalan-Aragonese crown the stronghold of Alghero was a key to communication between the island and Catalonia, and as such it could not be lost: its walls had to be defended, strengthened and carefully guarded. For this reason, several garrisons controlled access by Sardinians and foreigners to the city walls. Non-Catalans were prohibited from spending the night there. In 1362, Peter IV demanded that the opening and closing of the gates of the city be entrusted to a Deputy and an Advisor. Entry to Alghero was afforded via two gateways, the Portal Reial (today’s Porta Terra) and the Porta a Mare (today’s Porto Salve). Forever at the centre of the attention of various sovereigns, at the end of the 15th century, Ferdinand II of Aragon, known as the Catholic, ordered that the defensive infrastructure be given “another form” to ensure greater protection of the city. Jealously safeguarded by its impenetrable walls, Alghero became even more of a Catalan island within the island of Sardinia.
And to this day, despite their partial demolition, the walls continue to exude strength, serving as an emblem of the identity of the Algherese people. And it is here, between the walls and the sea, that we can discern the soul of the city.