Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Hunting for wild boars, tombs, ogres

Monday, April 23
Cacti, flocks of sheep and cows, rugged granite mountains, odd rock formations, isolated farm houses—these are our first impressions of Sardegna after we leave the dock in Olbia and drive inland with our rented black Volkswagen Golf. Olbia is on the coast, as is our apartment in Tanca Manna, and we know we will see plenty of water during the week—thus we chose an inland route so we can see a different part of the island.
We saw this field on our walk to the Tombe dei Giganti.

My knowledge of Sardegna is very limited, but it is obvious that its economy is dependent on tourism on the coast and farming in the interior. We also see that larger cities are on the coast, and the interior is green, hilly, pastoral and sparsely populated. It reminds us a little of Arizona, though for the most part, it is greener and at the same time rockier.

OK, if they were giants, how did they get in this little door?
We stop once to take photos of some unusual rock formations, and I gradually come to the opinion that this entire island consists of granite that has been thrust upward from the sea, though I am seeing only a small portion of the north, so I should reserve judgment. When we see a sign that says “Tombe dei Giganti,” we turn off at once. Who wouldn’t want to see tombs of the giants?

After a short drive over a rough dirt road, we find a place to park near the trailhead. One couple is just climbing in their car and leaving; otherwise we are the only ones here. The path leads past a flower-covered pasture with craggy mountains in the background. With not a human or house in sight, we feel we could have jumped back in time a thousand years. We note that even the fence posts here are carved out of solid granite. However, to remind us that we are in the 21st century, the mountain ridge is topped with a silhouette of communications towers.

A wild boar dug up wild flower bulbs
and ate them, leaving only the stems.
We also note that the ground has been disturbed in numerous places. Our first thought is that someone has been poaching wild plants, digging them up by the roots for transplanting. But on closer inspection, I realize that this widespread shallow digging must be the work of cinghiali, the wild boars of Italy that are highly prized for their delicious meat. It would be quite an experience to happen upon one of these, and while I’m pretty sure it would run from us rather than attack, I will be satisfied to say I saw sure signs of one rather than boast of an actual sighting.

I found a way in through the top. No bones, though.
We cross a beautiful arching wooden footbridge, and moments later we are at the end of the trail, standing beside a giant’s tomb. It is essentially a stone hallway, about four feet wide, four feet tall and 50 feet long. Dirt has been mounded up all around the outside. One end is blocked off with stones, and the other has a small rounded doorway, carved out of a piece of granite, that only a very small person could pass through. The top is covered with large, flat chunks of granite, though there are a few gaps that allow entrance. We can see that this would make a nice tomb, but we aren’t sure what giants have to do with it. We find no interpretive signs, so this is something we will have to explore later on the web.

One can enter the tomb through this gap in the top.
As we continue our drive, we see another sign for giant’s tombs in a different direction, so there must be more, but we need to continue to our apartment now. We are staying near the mouth of a harbor on the northern shores of what is called the Costa Smeralda, the Emerald Coast, so named for the color of the water.

The advertised free Internet at the resort is out of service, but I go to the only bar in town that has wi-fi and have time to look up a little about the giant’s tombs. It turns out there are 231 known tombs on the island, and nothing like them has been found anywhere else in Europe. It is thought that only the bones of the dead were put in the tombs, after the bodies had decomposed, and probably a large quantity were deposited at one time. As for the giants, when later generations of Sardegnesi came upon the tombs, they surmised that the bones inside were the remnants of a feast held by man-eating ogres. They called them domu 'e s'orcu, ogre houses, and though no traces of ogres have been found, the idea of giants has remained a part of the name that survived the translation into contemporary Italian.
These twisted querce (a variant of an oak) trees are all over island. I took these in a traffic mirror put up on a blind corner while driving near Calangianus.

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