Urzulei's town center has been inhabited since prehistoric times, as attested to by several Nuragic period findings from the area. Figuring among the vestiges of its ancient past are various nuraghes (including the Mereu and Gorropu nuraghes ), the hypogean sanctuary of Sa Domu 'e s'Orcu (in which a bronze statue representing a Nuragic Pietà was found) and a few giants' graves.
In the fifth century AD, Urzulei encountered its first Christian evangelizers, who arrived with the advent of the Greek church. The church left its traces in the area, mainly from the period of Byzantine domination, when devotion to eastern saints was being propagated.
In the sixth century AD, the town was affected by the deportation of the Goths, who were defeated by the Byzantines. It came under the sovereignty of the Judicature of Cagliari, followed by the Judicature of Gallura, which would continue to rule Urzulei until 1258.
According to historian Marisa Azuar, Urzulei was annexed, for a short time during the 15th century, to the district of Terra Ruia, which was ruled by the Marquis of Oristano. The marquis had retaken the district of Tortolì, and perhaps even Dorgali, because in this locality, the term Terra Ruia, according to oral tradition passed down over time, was used to refer to the territories of northern Ogliastra.
It was later conquered by the Pisans, and subsequently, by the Aragonese. The Aragonese assigned the territory as a fief to Berengar Carroz, after which it came under the sovereignty of the Centelles and Osorio de la Cueva.
The territory of Urzulei extends to the northern edge of Ogliastra, where it meets Barbagia, and much of the territory is contained within the old Gennargentu Park project. The area consists mainly of rugged limestone mountains called Supramonte, covered in lush oak and mastic forests.
Notable features of this limestone massif are its imposing canyons and gorges. Reaching a depth of 490 meters and a length of 1.5 kilometers, the Gorropu gorge, which straddles the boundary between Urzulei and Orgosolo, figures among the deepest gorges in Europe. Another well-known gorge is S' Ingurtidorgiu de Orbisi. It is formed by the dry riverbed of the Codula Orbisi, which channels water from the Urzulei Supramonte basin and the Talana mountains during the heavy winter rains. After flowing for about 3 kilometers within a homonymous grotto, the water resurfaces to form a 70-meter high waterfall called Su Cunnu e s'ebbs, and another waterfall, called Sa Giuntura, appears about a kilometer further downstream.
Other important grottos that were surveyed include Sa Rutta e S'Edera Sa, Su Sammucu, Sa Mela, S'Orale e Su Mudrecu, Su Colostrargiu, Nura Sos Mufrones, Inghiottitoio S'Iscra Olidanesa, and On Crabargiu.
The Supramonte di Urzulei is also home to plant specimens nearly as old as time itself. One such plant is the " tasso millenare ", a authentic 28-meter-high living natural monument in the Sedda ar Baccas region. Another is the "vite secolare" ("centuries-old grapevine"), surveyed by professor Rafael Ocete of the University of Seville (one of the leading experts on European wild grapes).With a trunk circumference of 125 cm – quite an unusual trait for wild grapevines exceeding a hundred years of age – this plant is still doing quite well. Its branches climb up holm oaks to reach a height of 15 meters.
Over the past few years, the Sa Portiscra Wildlife Oasis has been preparing for the reintroduction of the Sardinian deer, which went extinct in the area in the early 1900s. Another very rare species found in this area is the cave salamander, a type of amphibian. Five different species can be found in Sardinia (one of which forms part of the biodiversity of Sa Pischina 'e Urtaddala). This tiny amphibian has been wallowing here for millennia, in one the most popular hiking sites of the region.
But that's not all there is to see in Urzulei. A beautiful Nuragic village was unearthed here in the early 90s: Or murales, which enchants visitors with its numerous round houses that lets them take a walk back through time.
Venturing into the countryside, visitors can see the ruins of several villages, like Mannorri, located three kilometers south of the town, which was abandoned at the end of the eighteenth century (1798). The church of San Basilio was the town's parish, but it had two other churches as well: Santu Tommeu (Saint Timothy) in the countryside and Sant'Angelo in the old city center. Another "vanished town" is Siddie. Located near the Orgosecoro fountain, this town housed the churches of Saint Constantine and Saint Helena. The ruins of these churches, modeled on the square-shaped floorpans characteristic to Byzantine churches. "S'Ardia", a Sardinian horse race, was conducted around the church of Saint Constantine during the medieval period.
With just over 1200 residents, Urzulei is small entity within Ogliastra, and its uniqueness is drawn not only from the pristine environment that surrounds it and gives it its character; equally unique are Urzulei's ancient traditions, which has stayed alive despite the ever-growing stampede of progress.
One example is the processing of asphodelus plants, which are woven into magnificent baskets. These true works of art were once useful everyday objects.
Among the other sites the region has to offer, visitors should not miss the opportunity to visit the many churches in the area, like the Church of Saint John the Baptist, the Church of San Giorgio Vescovo, the Church of Sant'Antonio da Padova, the Church of San Basilio Magno, and the Chiesa dell'Angelo.
"The Museum Complex of the ancient village of Lorischina" is soon to open to the public. This facility contains individual houses which display recreations of the surroundings and trades once prevalent in Urzulei.
One of this small Ogliastrian town's strong suits is the rich flavors of its traditional dishes, which include culurgiones (a form of pasta) with potatoes and cheese, macaronis embodies (spaghetti immersed in an exquisite cheese cream), its famous ham and its kid rennet. A real cocktail of flavors, with its unmistakable features, that makes Ogliastrian cuisine famous all over the island.