Sardinia is a land where traditions and customs are still very important to the local communities. Today the people of the island continue to take great pride in their culture and folklore and there is widespread popular support for the numerous local feasts, festivals and celebrations, which make up a rich calendar of both religious and secular events. As with all agricultural-pastoral civilisations, the origins of these festivities lie mainly in the traditional seasonal cycles of farming work, such as periods of propitiatory rites connected to fertility, but there are also various celebrations believed to liberate people from the worries of daily life.
However, in Sardinia the festivities are above all a way for local people to proudly reaffirm their very strong sense of cultural identity. The main festivals are, in fact, an important part of village life and are therefore also regarded as occasions for people to get together, family reunions and home-comings.
Carnival, with its allegoric rituals, is a very popular event all over Sardinia and commences the night of Sant’Antonio with bonfires lighting up towns and villages. Each region holds its own celebrations and has something special to offer. In Oristano visitors should not miss the colourful Sartiglia, a horse race through the streets of the town which has Spanish origins. The undisputed protagonist of this jousting event is the famous “su componidori”, or Games Master, whose ceremonial appointment follows ancient traditions which have been passed down through the centuries.
In the Barbagia region, however, the same event unfolds in a very different atmosphere with the tragic masks of the Mamuthones in Mamoiada, of the “Merdules” in Ottana and of the “Sos Thurpos” in Orotelli. The processions are made up of people in sombre masks who move with rhythmical step to the oppressive and haunting sound of bells, recalling ancient rural rites. In the same way Easter, the most important festivity for the island, is celebrated with numerous original events and ceremonies, such as the “Lunissanti” (Easter Monday) in Castelsardo. For the occasion the whole town is lit by torches and a procession weaves its way through the streets accompanied by mournful chants.
The month of May, on the other hand, opens with a marvellous display of colour in Cagliari with the parade of the “traccas”, characteristic ox-drawn carts, decorated with flowers and ribbons. The 1st of May is, in fact, the festival of the Patron Saint of Cagliari, Sant’Efisio, and the festivities attract thousands of pilgrims from all over the island for an occasion which has been celebrated for over 346 years.
The Festival of San Costantino in Sedilo, on the other hand, gives visitors the chance to watch the exciting horse race known as the “Ardia”. Fearless riders charge through the narrow streets of the town offering spectators a daring show of skilful horsemanship, great tension but above all tradition.
A religious festival
The parade of the candlesticks in Sassari is just as impressive and takes place on the eve of “Ferragosto” (midsummer). Towering wooden columns are carried in a procession of people who dance to the rhythm of tambourines and pipes. It was originally a religious festival dedicated to the Virgin Mary of the Pisans, which dates back to the XIII century. However, a strong sense of tradition has transformed this ancient sacred rite into a popular secular event which involves the whole community.