Areas, Cities, Towns
Supramonte is one of the most famous areas in Sardinia. The adjectives which describe it belong to chronicles, tourist guides, everyday life on the Island: inaccessible, wild, contradictory, evocative, but also a prison, a hiding place, a scene for struggles and kidnappings. However, Supramonte remains there, impregnable, unchanged.
Tales, newspaper articles and a great deal of tourist guides have shared in creating a mythical, but also schematic and simplistic image of Supramonte; that kind of image does not help us in fully understanding the true nature of this land. The best thing is to take a walk on the calcareous stones, through colours and scents, trees and rocks, and lend an ear to its silence.
Supramonte started to take shape 300 million years ago.
An enormous granite tongue erupted from the ground during the Carboniferous period: nowadays, this is the most common rock in Sardinia. There were other areas, such as Supramonte, which were submerged by water instead.
Schist and white limestone covered the granite basement in the marine depths for millions of years; this basement emerged from the sea approx. 135-165 millions of years ago, when Supramonte originated.
Dolomites and limestones (two kinds of rocks), along with the actions of man, wind and water, have created this large upland, a lunar, harsh, white and stony environment.
Many elements capture your attention: vast and bare landscapes, canyons, watercourses bursting out of the earth, chasms, red peonies and the shadows of shepherds, who do not live permanently on the plateau.
A patient walk will lead you to the most secret and exciting discoveries.
It's unusual, but not impossible, to see moufflons amidst the thick holm-oaks: their number is nowadays increasing, whereas Sardinian stags and deer are extinct.
The wild boar prefers nocturnal life, and is frequently found in the thick scrub and bushes; mating occurs in the wintertime, and females give birth after 16-20 weeks: if you should meet them with their cubs, remember they are extremely aggressive.
It is much more unusual to meet smaller animals, such as dormice, martens, Sardinian hares and European wild cats. The latter are constantly decreasing, even if it is a protected species. Their dens are in small holes in the rocks or inside trees; they prefer nocturnal hours, just like their domestic "cousins".
Birdlife must be considered apart. Up to a few years ago, there were three European vultures living in the area, which are extinct nowadays: the griffon vulture, the cinereus vulture and the lammergeyer. The beautiful Bonelli eagle also found a perfect habitat in this plateau, but has now disappeared, and only survives in tales and uncertain sightings.
With regard to griffons, that someone claims to have seen recently in the area, we must specify that they live, nest and reproduce in other areas of the Island.
Other beautiful birds have chosen the Supramonte skies: golden eagles, goshawks, peregrine hawks, kestrels, sparrow-hawks and buzzards.
There are several noisy ravens and choughs, multicoloured nuthatches, Alpine accentors, blue rock thrushes and wheatears: some of these species nest, and they liven up the clear Supramonte skies during spring.
reptiles and amphibians
This area is rich in reptiles and amphibians; there is the very common coluber, a friendly green grass snake, which freely shares the heat of the sun with less common animals, such as algiroides and Bedriaga lizards.
The Cetti natrix has adjusted itself well to this environment, although it is very rare. Females can be up to 2 m long, whereas males are rarely longer than 1,20 m. Don't let its looks mislead you, it is absolutely harmless.
Sardinian Speleomantes is the main inhabitant of several caves in Supramonte, and it is a very interesting animal. It is an endemic species, which adores the dampness of grottos. It is greyish in colour, with a rather big head if compared to the body; it has large and prominent eyes, and is 15 cm long. It can climb on very smooth walls, due to the perfect shape of its digits. It is not a protected species, but it will soon become one, because of hunters.
In the Rio Flumineddu area, in the Supramonte of Orgosolo, there is a very large forest of age-old holm-oaks: some of these trees have never been cut, a unique example in Italy and a rare fact in Europe. The largest trees measure 15 m round the girth, and can be taller than 30 m.
Holm-oaks grow in other parts of Supramonte, in coppice (woods which are used for timber and periodically cut).
As a matter of fact, holm-oaks grow new branches out of stumps, and this helps new trees to grow continuously.
There also are Phoenician junipers, hollies and yews, along with holm-oaks. There are junipers in other areas too; they prefer dry grounds with a calcareous substratum, and bloom in February/April with reddish berries, which are used in local recipes.
Hollies grow in areas characterised by rich and deep earth: very delicate small flowers (the female ones are white, the male ones reddish) come to bloom among its particular leaves, between May and June. They change into vermilion fruits between August and September.
Yew or death-trees, are so called because of the high toxicity of the leaves and seeds; on the contrary, their aril fruits are edible.
plants, flowers, endemisms
A visit to Monte Novo San Giovanni, in the Orgosolo area, is very interesting. This area gives you the possibility to observe several botanical varieties, including endemic species. There is the ribes multiflorum, which blooms in April/May, with tiny greenish flowers in hanging bunches; the ribes sardoum Martelli is a less common variety, and can be found on Monte Corrasi.
The galium schmidii (elliptic cheese-rennet) brightens up the rock environment, with its white star-shaped flowers during the dry summer-season, and can be found in other areas of the Island too, in different varieties: g. scabrum, g. corsicum and g. glaucophillum.
The helichrysum, which can bear different substratums, blooms with yellow and thick tubular flowers, standing on long stalks, in March-May. It is known, with different names, throughout the entire island: some of these names are su frore de Santu Juanne (the flower of St. John) or erba de Santa Maria (herb of St. Mary).
The white and pure lily (pancraticum illyricum) brightens up the rocky habitats; it generously blooms between May and June.
Red peonies can easily be seen during the spring, not only when they effloresce, but also when their petals are timidly closed inside the buds. Sardinian people call them mountain roses, and they are considered the Queens of the mountains.
Cyclamens also sprout in this period: they prefer the woods and shady areas. It is very rare to see many of them together, but when you do find them they look like a pink oasis.
Narcissus lives during the harsh winter season, and fades at the beginning of the spring: its white and yellow, umbrella-shaped flowers peep among the simple leaves between February and May. Another variety of narcissus, the narciso tazetta, deep yellow in colour, also lives in Sardinia.
Man and Supramonte
The harshness of the Supramonte environment has not encouraged the presence of man, and this has been its luck. Due to this fact, most of the territory is practically uncontaminated.
Fires have destroyed several hectares of woods, and have changed the forest into a stony barren land, but Supramonte's naturalistic richness remains unchanged, as regards the extension and variety.
Remains of a deer (Megaceros cazioti), dating back to 18,500 years ago, have been discovered during archaelogical excavations in the Grotto of Corbeddu, at the foot of the Supramonte of Oliena: the marks on the animal's bones are, beyond any doubt, due to man.
Tiscali is a village standing in the middle of Supramonte, which dates back to the last period of the Nuragic age. A sight of rare beauty reveals itself before the visitor: the remains of the settlement are placed inside a calcareous cavity, originated by a tectonic subsidence.
The village was well preserved, before the visitors' lack of manners destroyed it. Nowadays, you can only see some huts, but the visit repays for the effort which is necessary to reach it.
Nuraghe Mereu also dates back to the Nuragic age: it was built with big blocks of white limestone, as the Gorroppu remains.
shepherds and pinnettos
Shepherds who still live in sos pinnettos are nowadays the only true inhabitants of Supramonte, of which they know the streets, paths, difficulties and compromises. We can ask them to help us understand the traces that history has left; their tales bear witness to the area's past and present life.
They have maintained the only possible construction on Supramonte: su pinnettu.
It has been very well described by Angelino Congiu: this architectonic work, with very few variations, answers man's necessity to survive in a sometimes unpredictable climate; the shelters had to be built with materials from the surrounding environment. The nuragic huts, dating from 3,500 years ago, prove that the ancient Sardinian houses weren't that different from su pinnettu.
Su pinnettu is a very particular hut: the base, which recalls nuraghi, is made of stones of similar size, forming a small dry stone wall. Spaces between the rocks are filled with smaller stones, clay or earth, to prevent drafts. A covering starts from the base, which is 1 m high: it is cone-shaped and made of juniper logs, which lay on three or four stronger tree trunks. This construction is covered by juniper branches, and a stone is put on top to fasten the original covering. Even sheperds are no longer willing to live in the Supramonte area: shepherd's life, which is often very hard, discourages young people from venturing into an activity which is slowly disappearing.