People on steps in front of Cattedrale di Santa Maria at dusk.

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Cattedrale di Santa Maria

Top choice in Cagliari

Cagliari’s graceful 13th-century cathedral stands proudly on Piazza Palazzo. Except for the square-based bell tower, little remains of the original Gothic structure: the clean Pisan-Romanesque facade is a 20th-century imitation, added between 1933 and 1938. Inside, the once-Gothic church has all but disappeared beneath a rich icing of baroque decor, the result of a radical late-17th-century makeover. Bright frescoes adorn the ceilings, and the side chapels spill over with exuberant sculptural whirls.

The third chapel on the right, the Cappella di San Michele, is perhaps the most baroque of all, with its ornate sculptural depiction of a serene-looking St Michael casting devils into hell.

At the central door, note the two stone pulpits, sculpted by Guglielmo da Pisa between 1158 and 1162. They originally formed a single unit, which stood in Pisa’s Duomo until the Pisans donated it to Cagliari in 1312. It was subsequently split into two by the meddlesome Domenico Spotorno, the architect behind the 17th-century baroque facelift, and the big stone lions that originally formed its base were removed to the altar where they now stand.

Beneath the altar is the Santuario dei Martiri (Sanctuary of Martyrs), the only one of several underground rooms open to the public. Carved out of rock, the sanctuary, which is named after the 179 martyrs whose relics are kept here, is an impressive sight with its sculptural decoration and intricate carvings.

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