Sardinia—the second largest island in the Mediterranean—has been inhabited since the 6th millennium BC, the first settlers most likely arriving from the Italian peninsula.
Over time, the inhabitants began staking out tribal territories, which they guarded with cone-shaped, stone towers called nuraghi. It is estimated that over 8,000 of the preexisting 30,000 nuraghi stand today.
The next wave of arrivals washed upon Sardinia’s shores in about 1000 BC with the Phoenicians—the forefathers of the Lebanese—who set up colonies throughout the island. By 509 BC, the Phoenicians had made considerable inroads into the island, prompting the local Sardinians to summon the armies of Carthage, who, after defeating the Phoenicians decided to stay.
The Carthaginians cohabited with the native islanders until 238 BC when they were defeated and ousted by the Romans in what is called the First Punic War. (Punic is merely the Latin name for Phoenician, since the Carthaginians were originally Phoenicians.) Although resisted by the Sardinians, Rome’s domination lasted 694 years, until 456 AD, when the island was literally vandalized—by the Vandals!
Their song “Nowhere to Run” would have been appropriate, but the Vandals had nothing to do with Martha and the Vandellas. The Vandals were an Eastern Germanic tribe that lived all throughout Europe. They conquered North Africa as a launching point to raid, or vandalize, the Mediterranean islands and coastlands.
But the vandalism did not last long and Sardinia was liberated in 534 AD by the Byzantines, who spread Christianity to the island. The tranquility of Byzantium rule, however, was also short lived by the incursions of the Barbary pirates, known also as Corsairs and Saracens, who assailed the island in 710 AD.
For several centuries, the Sardinians succeeded in defending themselves; but the island was soon thrown into turmoil in the 13th century upon the contentions of two maritime powers on the Italian peninsula— the Republic of Genoa and the Republic of Pisa, the latter of which succeeded to colonize Sardinia.
Remember—until 1861, Italy had never existed as a nation but rather the peninsula was always under the domination of indigenous and foreign powers.
Eventually, and with the help of the pope, Sardinia fell to the House of Aragon in 1354 and remained a Catalan possession (and later Spanish) until it was handed over to Piedmont’s House of Savoy, which in 1861 established the Kingdom of Italy, crowning Vittorio Emanuele II the first king of Italy.
“Why the history?” you ask. Like most societies, traditional Sardinian dress is a kaleidoscope of the successive cultures that dominated the island over the millenia, which is also expressed in the music, dance, arts and crafts, cuisine, and traditions of the people. (See timeline.)
So many times, we scratch our heads in amazement at how a designer came up with a certain design. Often, however, we can find the answer in history. See my editorial, Fashion in a Box? Time to Open the Lid.
Although there exists great variation throughout the island, Sardinian men (which are called Sardinians and not sardines!) traditionally wore a black kilt-like skirt that was gathered at the waste with a large leather belt, white loose-fitting pants that were tucked into leather boots, a dark-colored jacket, and a white shirt with puffy sleeves—all topped off with a floppy cone-shaped hat.
The look eventually evolved into a contemporary silhouette of rugged elegance, which has been preserved by the Bagella family, whom we will meet in the next article.
Photo top left Nuraghe by Fawcett5 Public Domain at Wikipedia.
Photo bottom right traditional Dress Copyright Bagella.