Inside The Nuraghi, Sardinia's Ancient Stone Towers

Nuraghe of Santa Christina in Paulilatino, Sardinia
James Martin

Nuraghi dot the Sardinian landscape. You can often just get out of a car and visit one. But just what are they and how are they constructed?

The name "nuraghe" (plural: nuraghi) derives from the word "nur" meaning "hollow heap." The earliest form of nuraghi were corridor nuraghi, and from the outside resembled a pile of rock, but the insides had been removed to make a habitation area.

What is a Nuraghe?

A nuraghe is a monumental tower made of huge stones roughly worked. A nuraghe might stand as a single tower like the one in the photo, or several nuraghi might be joined together as a complex with connecting structures and walls. Either form might show remnants of a village in the immediate vicinity.

Many tower nuraghi have several floors. In this case, there is usally a staircase running around the interior, and each floor is topped with a corbeled dome (a rounded dome made by stacking rocks in circular courses, each course becoming smaller as it inches inward, until it all comes together at the top).

A nuraghe may have many niches in its walls, and there are secret rooms in some, usually near the entrance, giving rise to the idea that they were being used for passive defense. But there's hardly anything written to let us know just what they were used for exactly, except a single paragraph by the Romans refering to how difficult it was to win a battle with people who had managed to get inside a nuraghe and were ready to defend it.

Visiting a Nuraghe

Unexcavated Nuraghe are often burried quite deep, no matter how tall they appear (see the pictures below), and you might not want to crawl in and see the insides. A better bet is to go to one of the excavated examples where you'll be able to see complex tower complexes with village remains. A good example of one of these is found at Su Nuraxi di Barumini, whose central tower was constructed around 3500 years ago.

  • Su Nuraxi di Barumini is accessible by car, 60km north of the Southern Sardinian city of Cagliari. Nuragic, Punic, and Roman artifacts have been found there.
  • Santu Antine, just outside of the city of Torrialba in the Sassari province near the road to the train station, is a complex formed around a central tower surrounded by three other smaller towers.