Of the four museums at the Cittadella dei Musei, this is the undoubted star. Sardinia’s premier archaeological museum showcases artefacts spanning thousands of years of history, from the early Neolithic, through the Bronze and Iron Ages to the Phoenician and Roman eras. Highlights include a series of colossal figures known as the Giganti di Monte Prama and a superb collection of bronzetti (bronze figurines), which, in the absence of any written records, are a vital source of information about Sardinia’s mysterious nuraghic culture.
In all, about 400 nuraghic bronzes have been discovered, many in sites of religious importance, leading scholars to conclude that they were probably used as votive offerings. Depicting tribal chiefs, warriors, hunters, mothers and animals, the pint-sized figurines are remarkably powerful.
The Giganti di Monte Prama are powerful too. These 2m-high sculptures are the only nuraghic stone statues to have been discovered in Sardinia, and are among the oldest examples of their type in the Mediterranean. Dating to the 8th and 9th centuries BC, they represent men, mainly as boxers, archers or wrestlers. More are on display in the Museo Civico in Cabras near where they were originally unearthed.
The ground floor provides a chronological history of the island from the Neolithic age through to the early Middle Ages. Its fine stash of finds includes pre-nuraghic stone implements and obsidian tools, rudimentary ceramics and robust fertility goddesses. You'll also find a model tophet (sacred Phoenician or Carthaginian burial ground for children and babies) and delicate debris such as terracotta vases, glass vessels, scarabs and jewellery from ancient Karalis (Cagliari), Sulcis, Tharros and Nora.
The 1st and 2nd floors contain more of the same, but are divided by region and site rather than by age. Among the highlights are some Roman-era mosaics, a collection of statues, busts and tombstones from Cagliari, and coin displays.