In the heart of the voluptuous green countryside near Barumini, the Nuraghe Su Nuraxi is Sardinia’s sole World Heritage Site and the island’s most visited nuraghe. The focal point is the 1500 BC tower, which originally stood on its own but was later incorporated into a fortified compound. Many of the settlement's buildings were erected in the Iron Age, and it's these that constitute the beehive of circular interlocking buildings that tumble down the hillside.
Hours vary by month – check the website.
The Nuraxi tower, the oldest part of the complex, originally rose to a height of 18.6m and had three floors, each housing a single tholos (internal chamber). It was subsequently strengthened in around 1200 BC with the addition of four subsidiary towers and a massive curtain wall.
The first village huts arrived in the Bronze Age, between the 11th and 9th centuries BC, though many of the ruins you see today date to a later phase of construction in the 6th and 7th centuries BC. As the village grew, a more complex defensive wall was built around the core, consisting of nine towers with arrow slits. Weapons in the form of massive stone balls have also been unearthed here.
In the 7th century BC the site was partly destroyed but not abandoned. In fact it grew and it was still inhabited in Roman times. Elements of basic sewerage and canalisation have even been identified.
The site was rediscovered by Giovanni Lilliu (Sardinia's most famous archaeologist) in 1949, after torrential rains eroded the compacted earth that had covered the nuraghe and made it look like just another Marmilla hillock. Excavations continued for six years and today the site is the only entirely excavated nuraghe in Sardinia. You can get an inkling of the work involved by seeing how many square bricks have been incorporated into the structure – these were deliberately made to stand out so they could be distinguished from the original basalt.
Visits are by guided tour only, in Italian or English. It's also worth noting that queues are the norm in summer when it can get extremely hot on the exposed site.