Autorità Portuale di Cagliari

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Short history of the Port of Cagliari PDF Print E-mail

by Francesco Cesare Casula

(Professor of Medieval History at University of Cagliari and director of Institute of Mediterranean history of Europe of National Research Council)

History of the Port of Cagliari, situated in the Gulf of Angels – even if from ancient times it was a good and well sheltered landing place – starts with the first man in Sardinia in the late Paleolithic period, around 6000 years before Christ, and it proceeds through the entire Nuragic and Prenuragic period until the arrival of the first Phoenician holah and hippos en route for Britain around 1000 years before Christ, that made it a place of primary and irreplaceable importance for commercial trades in the Mediterranean.

According to archeological testimonies, the port was situated in the zone of San Paolo, inside the lagoon of Santa Gilla, where it was not supposed to have permanent structure. It is believed that it was moved to a better place outside of the water, near the place of current quay of Via Roma. After couple of centuries as a emporium and stop for merchandise, it became a natural port of Karalis, first Phoenician and then Carthaginian, placed around the present-day Piazza del Carmine.  

As  is well known, after Punic wars between the end of 238 and first months of 237 B.C.  roman army under the command of consul Tiberio Sempronio Gracco conquered the Semitic Sardinia even without resistance, because the Carthaginians, already exhausted, were paying the debts of the defeat in war against Egadi Islands from three years before. That is how Karalis became the capital of the second province of Rome and its port the center of radiation of all political and military actions for conquering the island.

In the summer of 215 B.C. 22.000 infantrymen and 1.200 cavaliers under the command of Tito Manlio Torquato land out to repress the Sardinian-Punic riot of Ampsicora, and later, armies were sent to crush the Anti-roman resistance of Barbarians until 104 B.C.

At the beginning of the Empire,  inside the coastal cities of Sardinia, and among them Karalis at the level of municipality, the administrators were Latins.  The official coast emperor (procurator ad ripam) was controlling the port for customs duties and stockpile of merchandise from entrepreneurs and transport contractors, businessmen and wholesale traders. The main good for exporting was always wheat cultivated on large terrestrial property with extensive agriculture called latifundium. Other important products were silver and lead, found in the mountains around Iglesiente, where was the city of Metalla near the temple of Antas dedicated to Sardus Pater, ancient Sid-Babài.

They exported  cooper extracted from the prenuragic mine of Funtana Raminosa, near Gadoni. And also salt, that was necessary for food seasoning and conservation of meat and fish, collected in waters between Karalis and Quarto (Quartu Sant’Elena).

In the smaller quantity they exported vine, leather, wool, cheese and other products of Sardinian agriculture and sheep-farming. On the other hand, they imported hand-made products and carved materials.

Meanwhile, time was passing by. 753 years passed since the foundation of Rome, and 27 since August became emperor, when in one lost village in Jewish Palestine, called Bethlehem, Christ was born, crossified in the year 30 or 33 of our Era, under Tiberio, for spreading equality between people in one society made at the time of free man, servants and slaves, without any rights. It was very insignificant for all Romans, but extraordinary important for the future of humanity.

Karalis was the first port city to receive 190 Christian deportees, convicted to do forced work in the mines of Argenteria del Sigerro (Iglesiante) because of their faith; so it was the first city, outside of Rome, to meet the new religion of Christ, anointed by God.

In the year of 387 the Alexandrian poet Claudio Claudiano described it like this: “…the city of Caralis, opposite Libya, founded by strong Phoenicians, is developing along the coast with a small hill (the hill of Sant’Elia) seeping into the sea and breaking violence of winds,  whereas in the middle, a port is formed, and in large creek, waters are resting”.

60 years after, Vandals of Genserico occupied entire coastal Sardinia and pretty soon the Western Roman Empire finished its existence.

One more time the city port was a theatre place for spectacles, proclamation of independence by Goda, his death by Zazone/Tata, arrival of Byzantine dromons in 534 and return of the island into Roman Empire, the eastern one.

The so-called Byzantine domination here lasted around 350 years, interrupted by often Arabic incursions.  In the year of 709 from Maghreb, Arabs started attacking in jihad (holy war) Karalis and other coastal Sardinian cities, forcing citizens to abandon their homes and to find shelters inside the territory, organized in sovereign entities for better defense, badly named “giudicati” by the current historiography.

People of Karalis went back over bogs in the zone of Campo Scipione – San Paolo, settled in Tyrrhenian quay, that from the present Città-mercato  goes until the zone of San Michele, where Santa Igia was founded as the capital of the state. New port for ships was placed in the wetland of Santa Gilla, secured by chains that blocked entrance for enemies to the bridge della Scafa.

In 1216, after Muslim danger and reopening of Tyrrhenian sea towards the commercial traffic, sovereigns of the kingdom of Calari made a mistake and allowed a group of Pisan entrepreneurs to build a fortified citadel up on the hill where once was the military district of Roman Calari, with the port of Lapola at the bottom of the hill (whose dock was built in 1262) that soon became “the key of the Mediterranean”. They named it Castel di Castro.

The story between Santa Igia and Castel di Castro didn’t last long. In 1257 a military coalition formed by three kingdoms of “giudicali filopisani” and the Community of Pisa, converged from hinterland and sea, attacked Santa Igia that surrendered on 20th of July 1258 after 14 months of war.  That’s how the Ancient indigenous kingdom of Carali ended after 358. Its territory became a colony of Pisa with the capital il comune di Castel di Castro di Calari (by time it was reducted to the appellative of Carali, then Caller/Calleri and at the end, in 1692 it was Italianized in Cagliari).

Castel di Castro (Cagliari) was connected with port by the fortified district of Marina that was going down from the door of Lion to port of call along present-days via Baille and via Barcelona, with lodges, houses, magazines, offices and building sites. Anchorage at the sea was limited to a semicircular palisade with entrance and exit barred by solid chains.

After 1258 at the bottom of east and west side of the rock were formed two villages, Stampace and Villanova, that received refugees from Santa Igia and Sardinians that were  looking for a job. They were also protected by walls with towers and entrance doors.

Political administration of Castel di Castro wasn’t lead by mayor like in almost all other communities in Italy in the beginning of 14th century, but it was lead by two lords of the manor elected every year from Pisa. They ruled together with Consiglio degli Anziani expressed in parlamentum, made of people who were divided, by streets, in companies (societates rugarum) doing the same commercial or craftsmen activities. Civil, penal and military attributions were regulated by the statute Breve di Castel di Castro, today lost, commercial attributions were regulated by Breve di porto (Breve portus kallaretani) that fortunately remained in Italian language promulgated in 68 chapters on 15th of March 1318 and applied by two merchant consuls with help of 12 councilors and one camerlengo with tasks in customs law, as cashiers and custodians of cargo registry.

This structure remained unchanged even when in 1324 Catalon-Aragons, to realize a fundamental stage of “ruta de las islas” that was going directly to the market of Middle East, conquered the Pisan part of the island and founded their ecumene (territory, people and property) the Kingdom of Sardinia, that enlarged thanks to the sudden touch of destiny, across the sea, and in the 1861 became the Kingdom of Italy, today the Republic of Italy.

The Port of Cagliari remained of primary importance, supported by close portu salis, until the discovery of America, when the principal commercial line passed from Mediterranean to Atlantic. So, it became to decay. In 1610 the royal visitor Martin Carrillo still praised it as “… very beautiful because it is safe from the sea dangers and very able”, but more as a place for passages than as a commercial center.

The Kingdom of Sardinia still remained as a part of States of Corona d’Aragona and then Spain, until 1720. After the War of Spanish Succession, the kingdom separated from Corona and became part of Principato di Piemonte (Principality of Piedmont), Ducato di Savoia (Dukedom of Savoy) and Contea di Nizza (County of Nice), chosen by the dynasty of Savoy (Savoia). That is how the Kingdom of Sardinia italianized in language and life. With new appearance,  a series of measures for city port have been written in the collection of Editti e Pregoni di Sanna-Lecca, from indication where “…you should put down wreckage, filth and torn ships…” to “where you should put away gunpowder taken from ships before entering the dock…”

What happened in modern and contemporary age is more a history of the sea around Cagliari then a history of its port: attack of revolutionary French fleet in 1792-93, usual barbarian incursions in the gulf finished with the Congress of Vienna in 1815, first maritime line Cagliari-Genoa established in 1835…

At the end, Risorgimento: changing name in the state on 17th of March 1861 and entrance of Italy into the group of European Nations.

The appearance of the port as seen today is still the one from the 20th century. The port lost walls that separated it from Via San Francesco da Paola (today Via Roma); it lost the Palace of Sanità in the same pier, where they were controlling animals and merchandise because of their potential contamination and diffusion of epidemies. On the other hand, the port shore has been moved away from the district of La Marina, and piers of Darsena and Sanità have been built. After the Second World War, a dock for berths became larger thanks to urban reconstruction of Caglari after being bombed by Anglo Americans.

Today, when is no longer active salt terminal, they have a lot of other activities that made it a terminal for multifunctional use.