Sanctuary of santa Cristina


In the centre of Sardinia, in the Oristano area, stands the sanctuary of Santa Cristina, a charming and in some ways mysterious sacred Nuragic area and the most important and most well-preserved on the island.

“It represents the apex of the architecture of the water temples. Its proportions are so balanced (…), its geometric composition so well-studied (…) and it is so rational (…) that it is hard to believe (…) that it is a work dating back to somewhere around the year 1000 BC”. This is how the `father’ of Sardinian archaeology, Giovanni Lilliu, describes the well of the Sanctuary of Santa Cristina, the sacred Nuragic area par excellence, which stands tall on a basalt plateau, in the territory of the nearby Paulilatino. The name comes from the ancient rural 11th-century church next to it, of which part of the apse still remains and, around it, there are 36 muristenes, little houses used to accommodate the pilgrims during religious celebrations.

The archaeological site is surrounded by greenery dotted with centuries-old olive trees, and is divided into two nucleuses. In the first, there is a “well temple”, dating back to the end of the Bronze Age, embraced by a sacred enclosure that is shaped like a ‘lock’. Inside, there is a vestibule, a descending staircase and rooms with a Tholos vault, built with concentric rings. Outside the enclosure, the meeting hut, which is round and has a ten-metre diameter, is paved with cobblestones and has a circular seat, and about ten rooms, possibly lodgings for the High Priests and market workshops that accompanied the religious festivities. Middle Eastern bronzes dating back to the beginning of the 1st millennium BC, bronze fibulas (9th century BC) and gold Phoenician jewellery, recovered in the excavations, bear witness to the long period of cultural and commercial vigour. The second nucleus is 200 metres away and consists of a single-towered Nuraghe, six metres high and 13 metres wide, with a staircase, a passageway niche, a room and a vault still intact. Around it, there are three long-shaped huts and the Nuragic village enclosed by a fence.

Built out of smooth stones using precise techniques, the well is a real gem with perfect geometric shapes. It brings to mind the evocative water cults, which attracted Nuragic peoples from all over the Island. The staircase has a trapezoidal section with seven-metre jutting walls. The staircase’s 25 steps become narrower leading to the cell, and are covered with architraves placed in a mirror-like position: the effect is that of an ‘inverted staircase’. The water reaches a tub, which is carved out of the rock, from a perpetual aquifer: the level is always constant. One would imagine that the higher part was similar to that of Su Tempiesu in Orune. The sanctuary may have been a place for astronomical observation: thus, this scenario deserves a visit, with caution, when the full moon lights up the well water.