The Prime historical traces of the area where the village of Arbatax currently stands, were already in place during the Carthaginian period between 400/500 BC. The small dock could not compete with others in size and prominence but still represented a point of call for shipping routes. It was given the name of "Sulpicius portus" in Roman times following some feats accomplished by Gaius Sulpicius around the coasts of the island and in particular for the battle that was fought in the Tortolì marsh during the first Punic War. In subsequent periods the trading domains of the Phoenicians, Etruscans, Greeks, Carthaginians and Romans, the port continued to be a "Statio" or a stopover on the route between Italy and Africa.
Later, the history of the village and surrounding areas were subject to the same history as the rest of Sardinia. In 1572, the Spaniards started the project for construction of the other four towers on the coast, in addition to that of Arbatax already built, to strengthen the defenses against pirates. During this period, the area was part of the territories of the Marquis of Quirra. During the Savoy period in 1778, the chapel dedicated to the Santissima Vergine di Adamo [Holy Virgin of Adam] was consecrated and opened for worship.
The most recent history of Arbatax has a deep connection with the island of Ponza. During the first half of the nineteenth century, dozens of men, mostly fishermen, left Ponza to look for work and security, and in the early twentieth century, some began to become attached to the village of Arbatax and its inhabitants. Many of them established families in Arbatax and the neighboring towns, and, since the Twenties, around twenty Ponza families settled in the small village permanently, helping to make it full of life. In 1861, the first measure for construction of the port was approved, while in the following year, construction of the lighthouse on the Bellavista promontory was defined, which was inaugurated in 1863. The lighthouse is one of the most important beacons of Sardinia; its most famous feature is its old French-built lantern.
The life of the village has always revolved around the port, until the Fifties only consisting of a protective pier and a loading wharf near the train station; a stopover for sailing ships and vessels, aimed at loading goods or offering a precarious refuge in bad weather. Only Cala Genovesi had good protection, although access was solely limited to small fishing boats. Subsequently, since the Sixties, with the introduction of lines connecting with the mainland, and the increase in passenger and commercial vessels, in particular timber and paper to the paper mill, the port was expanded with a new pier and the current docks. Established in 1963, the former paper factory later also led to creating the runway to meet the frequent private flights during the long period when the mill was in full operation, producing several hundred tons of newsprint and magazine paper per day.
Arbatax is located on the peninsula of Capo Bellavista, in the center of the Eastern coast, close to the Stagno di Tortolì [Marsh of Tortolì]. In the early Forties, the marsh was converted into what was then called the port of Tortolì, so much so, that even today Arbatax is still called portu by Tortolì residents. This beautiful waterway was probably a safe harbor for small rowboats or sailboats of the first fishermen during storms with northern winds.
Behind the port lies the charming area of the famous Scogli Rossi [Red Rocks], the unique attraction in the area: porphyritic rocks at the end of a vast, lushly green promontory, home of the quarry from which the blocks used to build the docks and harbor were extracted. Behind the large quarry stands the promontory of Capo Bellavista, which is dominated by the eponymous lighthouse. From this place of rare beauty with its forests, its trails and breathtaking views of the sea, the landscape of Ogliastra can be admired up to the slopes of the Gennargentu.
Not far from the town, through a path that begins in the small bay of Cala Moresca, the small plateau of "Batteria" is reached, a name that has its origin during the period of the Second World War, when an artillery had made it its base: in fact, the buildings used by the soldiers, the walkways and the cannon bases, can still be seen.
The scenery is breathtaking from the plateau: porphyry rocks, hedges of myrtle and Maquis shrubland blend with the infinite sea.
According to popular etymology, the name Arbatax derives from the Arab, arba'at ' ashar meaning "fourteen", which may indicate the fourteenth watchtower, similar to all those found on the Sardinian coasts. In fact, the Saracen Tower of San Miguel, which was restored a few years ago, with interior spaces that are often used for exhibits and shows, stands at the entrance of the waterfront.
The religious reference for the community is the church of Stella Maris, which was inaugurated in 1953 following the severe damage to the private chapel of the Madonna di Adamo caused by a flood. Today, as then, the church dedicated to Maria Madonna Stella del Mare Mary [Our Lady Star of the Sea] is small but nice and cozy. The Patron of the village is celebrated annually on the third Sunday of July: two days of festivals and events preceding the touching religious ritual that begins with a procession on the ground, a mass in the harbor and a procession at sea, before returning to the Church to shouts of "Viva Maria". Another major meaningful holiday for the inhabitants of the village is in honor of San Silverio, patron saint of Ponza, strongly supported and celebrated by the Ponza community and held, as in its island of origin, on June 20th. In 1974, Arbatax and part of the nearby coast of the Gulf of Orosei were the perfect venue for one of Lina Wertmuller's most famous films, "Swept Away", which had a remake filmed in 2002.
During the years of hard work at the Arbatax mill, the many crews of passing ships decorated the harbor with coats of arms, flags, slogans and images. For a long time,
these murals have made the piers of Arbatax unique and colorful: recently a project was launched for the recovery of these beautiful murals, to enhance was has become a historical memory of the village.
A trip on the little green train is an interesting adventure on the longest tourist line in Italy: 159 km between the Mandas station and the Arbatax station. The rail line still traveled today by the Little Green Train was a project implemented by Cavour which became law in 1879, financing the installation of narrow gauge trains to be used for political-economic development of the steel and timber sectors. Subsequently this type of motor transport was used to connect the coasts to the center of the island, aiding economic development of interior towns (Mandas, Sorgono, Sadali, etc.). This is the line most used by tourists, and the one that has lent its name to the tourist service, because (jointly with the line from Isili to Sorgono), it travels along the forest of the most prominent mountain of the island: the Gennargentu.