Autunno in Barbagia 2022

The town of Olzai overlooks a valley surrounded by mountains and high hills that protect it from the winds that in antiquity represented points of observation privileged but also a safe haven for the ancient people.

Literary sources in fact testify to the presence of prehistoric burials in the reliefs in the locality Lugulu (or Lochilo), Sedile and S'Ena de sa vacca. In the latter it is still possible to visit the important tomb of giants dated between the Middle Bronze Age and Present, considered for a long time a dolmen due to the large slab of coverage (about 4 meters). The presence of the ancient Sardinian population in the territory is witnessed by the ruins of 17 nuraghi counted at the beginning of the Twentieth Century.

Ceramics, bricks and tiles of roman times were found in the area of S'Angelu in which according to the popular tales stood a village. Perhaps dates back to the Byzantine period the now disappeared castello di Gulana, built on the mountain with the same name, of which today remains evidence in the local sources and legends that tell of a hidden treasure among the underground tunnels.

Medieval times the first written documents that give news of the villa de Oltai, belonging to the Giudicato of Arborea and the “curatoria” of the Barbagia di Ollolai. His maiore (a sort of mayor) is among the signatories, of the peace of January 24, 1388 between the Giudicessa Eleonora and the King of Aragon GiovanniI, together with 4 judges and 5 inhabitants of the center. Olzai was therefore a sharer of the principal moments of the epic medieval sardinian period by joining in the fight against catalan-aragoneses the invaders. Even after the fall of the Giudicato, the inhabitants showed hostility to Iberian monarchs who, in an attempt to calm the minds of the people down, attributed the fief to the marquisate of Oristano, considered heir to the lineage of Arborea.

A new wave of rebellions, led by the last marquis Leonardo Alagon who was fighting to free the island from foreign conquerors, was savagely repressed. The village passed then under the harsh government of the feudal lords chosen by the sovereign aragonese before and, starting from 1720, as confirmed from the lineage of the House of Savoy who obtained dignity regia with the acquisition of the Kingdom of Sardinia. The country was freed from the feudal oppression in 1839.

From the nineteenth and twentieth century the center was distinguished by the degree of education of the population: in addition to a very low percentage of illiteracy for the era, it boasted a high number of graduates. The great importance attached to education led to the construction of the  first Institute for Childhood: in 1904 the canon Giovanni Fancello built the Asylum of San Vincenzo. The school, which is managed by the Daughters of Charity, was intended for students from 3 to 6 years old and in addition to the educational function with the aim to accommodate and deliver a meal to the poor children who were attending free of charge.

Framed by mountains and overlooking a beautiful valley, the country of Olzai is the ideal place to undertake an excursion. Through footpaths, carrarecce and old mule streets you can reach the tops of the surrounding ridges from which you can enjoy spectacular views ranging from the mountains of Gennargentu to the valley of the river Tirso

The granite mountains seem to embrace the town, offering shelters from cold winter winds and leaving an opening toward the valley protected from the high hills. The center is crossed by the impoundment on which flows the rio Bisine that descends from the heights to the east to converge on the Taloro river. The winter flows provided the motive power for the mills that, still in the Twentieth Century, were used for grinding wheat. Just outside the town you can visit the last water mill still working called Su Mulinu bezzu: Built in the Nineteenth Century in granite ashlars, represents a beautiful example of  pre-industrial architecture, documenting the important activity  of the wheat processing in the history of Olzai.

The mill is immersed in nature, surrounded by beautiful old trees: holm-oaks, oaks, cork trees and Mediterranean vegetation in which there are small springs.

Toward the south you can  climb to Monte Gulana covered by holm-oak woods. On the top, which belongs to the municipal park, you will find huge blocks of stone on which stood up su casteddu, a fortress, perhaps of Byzantine origin, of which there is news from the report of  Vittorio Angius in the first half of the Nineteenth Century. The castle was the protagonist of many popular legends that tell of fantastic treasures hidden in underground tunnels.

On the mountain you can admire formations of great naturalistic interest (su Nodu de su malune) and the beautiful landscape of the valley of the Taloro. To the south-west there is the lake Benzone, one of the three artificial basins built in the sixties on Taloro river for the production of electricity. The courses of sweet water are the habitat of eels, trout carp and tench, while in the woods live different wild animal species including: wild boars, foxes, hares, rabbits, ferrets, weasels, martens, fat dormouse but also buzzards, kestrels eagles, woodpeckers, partridges, pigeons and doves.

Olzai was defined “paese dei laureati” , (town of the graduates) in the early Twentieth Century for the cultural vocation of its habitants. Its illustrious citizens (including doctor Pietro Meloni Satta, 1840-1922), contribute to make the town and its many cultural heritages known.

Between the Middle Bronze Age and recently the impressive tomb of the giants of S’ena de sa vacca was erected: closed by a huge slab of stone that for a long time has identified the monument as dolmen. The wall structure of the room made of rows and the remains of the exedra are typical of most recent tombs of the giants for which experts think the coverage has been added in a second time perhaps taken from a near dolmen.

Not far away is the nuraghe Su Puddu and more south  those of Erchiles, Oritti, sos Pranos and Portoni, while approaching the center of the village, there are the nuraghi Comiddo, Lenuie and Ludurioe; these are just some of the 17 quoted in the beginning of the Twentieth Century sources.

Local legends tell of ancient hidden treasures on monte Gulana where, perhaps in the Byzantine period, was erected the ancient castle of which today we find mentioned only in books.

The town is crossed from east to west by the rio Bisine. In 1921 the course of the water was channelled into a monumental architectural work called L’Arginamento (the Impoundment). The fascinating historical center has maintained the typical system of the antique tradition with houses on more floors built with granite blocks. Among them is the beautiful eighteenth-century palace House-museum of artist Carmelo Floris. In the premises are exposed various works by the famous painter and engraver. On the first floor there are rooms in which the family lived with vintage furniture and on the second it is still possible to visit the study of the teacher.

The charming cobbled alleys hide large and small architectural jewels. The church dedicated to San Giovanni Battista was built in the XV century as an oratory dedicated to the Savior, and then enlarged in the seventeenth century and in 1738, when the bell tower was built, it became a parish church. The graceful facade ends with frames in pink trachyte with which it is also made the center rose and the decorations that surround the portal.

The oldest building is the charming church of Santa Barbara built in the XIVth century and house of the seventeenth century confraternity de  Santa Rughe . In its interior and guarded the famous “Retablo della Pestilenza”, work of the artist known as Maestro d’Olzai that painted it in the fifteenth century probably as ex-vote following the epidemic plague of 1477.

The church of Sant’Anastasio (sa cresia de Sanct’Istasi) was built in the XVI century in the Catalan Gothic style. Unique decorative element in the simple gabled facade is an arc in red trachyte that frames the portal topped by a small window. Inside there is the "Retablo della sacra famiglia" of the XVI century.

In the vicinity of the country, immersed in nature, it is worth visiting the last water mill built in the Nineteenth Century. Su Mulinu bezzu, restored and working, is made available from the council, to grind the wheat.