Our primitive forebears may have been wandering around Sardinia as long as 400,000 years ago. Their Bronze Age descendants, known as the nuraghic peoples, long dominated the interior of the island, even after the arrival of Phoenician traders around 850 BC, subsequently to be replaced by the Carthaginians and Romans. The latter eventually took control of much of the island and the indigenous people faded into history.
The departure of the Romans and the ensuing chaos left Sardinia at the mercy of Vandal raiders, Byzantine occupiers and Arab corsairs. Four giudicati (kingdoms) emerged in the Middle Ages but, by the 13th century, the Pisans and Genoese were battling for control. They were eventually toppled in 1323 by the Catalano-Aragonese from northern Spain who stayed put some 50 years. Eleonora d’Arborea (1340–1404) battled against them heroically and remains justifiably revered as Sardinia’s very own Joan of Arc.
Sardinia became a Spanish territory after the unification of the Spanish kingdoms in 1479 and, still today, there is a tangible Hispanic feel to towns such as Alghero. In the ensuing centuries, Sardinia suffered as Spain’s power crumbled and, in 1720, the Italian Savoy kingdom took possession of the island. After Italian unity in 1861, Sardinia found itself under the disinterested boot of Rome.
In 1943, during WWII, Cagliari was heavily bombed by the Allies. On a brighter note, one of the most important postwar successes was the elimination of malaria in the 1950s, which allowed the development of coastal tourism that today forms a pillar of Sardinia’s economy, although the impact of the Decreto Soru is causing some in the tourism industry to worry.
In June 2004, Renato Soru, founder of Italy’s largest internet company, Tiscali, beat Mauro Pili, then-prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s protégé, by a wide margin to become president of the island. A central-left politician, Soru’s successful campaign was based on the revitalisation of the island’s economy and environmental issues, including his pledge to close the American nuclear submarine base on the Arcipelago di La Maddalena. A timetable for withdrawal has since been confirmed by the Italian Defence Ministry and US authorities.