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The past of Cala Gonone

06 February 2023

The greatest attraction for the ancient inhabitants of the earth was safety, and it was generally combined with beauty. Cala Gonone married both with its sea, its caves, its coves, its holm oak forests, with the mountains that extend towards the sea, embracing it with protective will. It seems that traces of human organization dating back to the fifth millennium BC were found in this basin. Traces of such settlements are certainly found in 3000 BC, up to the birth and explosion of the Nuragic civilization from 2000 to 1000. Remnants of this last period remain in the form of the Nuraghe Arvu and Nuraghe Mannu nuragic villages, as well as the Nuragheddu, a short distance from the previous one; and the La Favorita nuraghe.

In the village of Nuraghe Mannu, a nuragic temple was built and destroyed by the Romans. The Phoenicians passed through the Gonone area (600 BC); the Carthaginians (500); and above all the Romans, whose desire for power and invasion, as well as the pride and love for freedom of our ancestors remain as signs, in the villages built by the latter in particularly rugged and inaccessible places. In 900 AD, pirates probably also landed there. Two facts are significant in this regard: a) the mountain that separates Dorgali from the sea is named Bardia, meaning "Guard", perhaps indicating the security it provided against any form of invasion or raid; b) Dorgali has never had a professional fisherman, which says a lot about its inhabitants' distrust of this beautiful stretch of sea. Add to this the lack of direct connections between the two locations, which only came about with the first tunnel in 1860 and the one currently in use since 1928. It can be said that the two tunnels opened, albeit timidly, Gonone to the world.


The Middle Ages and the Judicates say nothing about this strip of land and sea. In the eighteenth century, one hundred meters from the cliff that dominates the central beach and the entire arch of the gulf, a Sardinian-Baroque style little church was built, which in turn dominated the various clusters of houses that were slowly forming, starting from the end of the nineteenth century, descending towards the sea. They were built by wealthy Dorgali families who had discovered this corner of the world, unique for their desire for peace.


The little church and the first houses are a sign of the life that is returning. Trades of wine and cheese were transported by horses on land at first, and later by carts when the old gallery began to work, which was accessible from the west side through a characteristic and almost inaccessible road called "Scala Homines". The goods were taken and transported beyond the island by capable ships that the old remember with the names of Ichnusa and Tirrenia, which, docking at a rudimentary wooden pier that protruded into the sea for about 50 meters, unloaded pasta, flour, sugar, as well as kitchen utensils. The dense forests of the immediate hinterland provided the possibility, starting from the end of the nineteenth century, for the production of coal, which, processed on site in an artisanal way, was traded both on the island and on the mainland. Even today, before the boat docks at Cala Mariolu, one can see an iron ladder on the coast, "on whose steps - informs a guide of the Maritime Transport Consortium of Cala Gonone - the predators climbed from the ships, who, after having destroyed the entire forest of ancient holm oaks, took away the coal, pouring it in rivers onto the ships, towards the shores of the mainland".


Gonone offered its first taste of tourism in the immediate post-war period, by renting out rooms in the very few existing houses for usually a couple of weeks, but above all by allowing families coming from Dorgali, Nuoro, and especially Oliena, to build, under olive trees or a stone's throw from the beach (Palmasera), a dense series of huts, obtained with interwoven oleander and cistus branches. These families usually arrived in Gonone with ox-drawn carts, with all the furniture and supplies needed for the planned period, but usually supplemented with local goods, such as coal, "carasau" bread from Dorgali, and fish from Ponzesi. But even before the last war, the houses of wealthy people from Dorgali were used for elite tourism, complete with a private "bagnetto" on the central beach, a kind of family-level beach resort, consisting of a rectangular concrete basin immersed in water, topped by a wooden structure like a stilthouse. The construction blew up in the last phase of the war, perhaps mistaken for a military arsenal.

In the fifties, the first timid visits to the Grotte del Bue Marino (monk seal), with groups of speleologists such as those of the Jesuit P. Furreddu and engineer Giacobbe. The writer has participated in some of these visits and remembers passages, now comfortable and wide openings, before crawl spaces where one could only pass on their stomach. The Pro Loco had equipped a daring wall overlooking the sea with a ladder with movable rungs to facilitate entry into the caves for these caravans coming by land, starting from Cala Fuili. What is done today with the Consortium of boats is the development of the courageous work of those pioneers.

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Get to Cala Gonone

The town can be easily reached from major Sardinian cities (Cagliari, Sassari, Oristano, Olbia) by taking the s.s. 131 - Abbasanta/Nuoro branch - Lula/Dorgali exit. It is also connected to Cagliari and Olbia by the s.s. 125 (also known as the "Orientale Sarda" because it connects all the towns along the eastern coast of Sardinia), which is longer and more winding, but rich in incredible panoramic views.

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