Monserrato lies in the southernmost part of the Campidano province, near the Molentargius-Saline Regional Park, within the metropolitan city of Cagliari. Monserrato is a city with 20,000 inhabitants, whose inhabited area, through the municipality of Pirri, is seamlessly joined with that of the capital, from which it became independent via a referendum in 1991. In Sardinian, it is known as Pauli (swamp), already the name in medieval times. It then became Paùli Pirri. In 1881, the name changed to Paùli Monserrato. Just seven years later, via royal decree, this became Monserrato, deriving from the Madonna of Montserrat.
The old town is characterised by narrow streets overlooked by typical Campidanese houses in Ladiri (mud-brick), with Spanish loggias and wooden portals. The winemaking tradition lives on, as is testified by Sagra della vendemmia (Grape Harvest Festival) at the end of September. Its communal winery is the oldest in Sardinia (1924), with nuragus, monica, moscato and nasco wines produced here. From the end of the 20th century, construction was remarkable, with new and modern neighbourhoods being built. Along the road to Sestu, the Cittadella Universitaria was built, being a vast complex connected to the city by the Ponte Strallato (bridge) on the state road 554, the only one on the island. Inside the citadel is the Museo Sardo di Antropologia ed Etnografia (Sardinian museum of anthropology and ethnography). The other main exhibition is the Museo delle Ferrovie della Sardegna, dedicated to the construction and operation of historic stations and railway lines, with an area in which old-time steam locomotives and vintage carriages are kept. There is also the Trenino Verde, a tourist service that departs from Monserrato and heads to Mandas and Isili.
To be admired in the heart of the city is the parish church of Sant’Ambrogio (whose patron saint is celebrated on 7th December), in late Gothic-Catalan architecture, built between the late-15th and early-16th centuries. Whilst there was originally one nave, today the interior has three, with the central one being wide and tall, composed of pillars that unite in ogival arches. The side aisles are barrel-covered with six chapels on each side. On the high altar in gilded wood and polychrome marble (1705), scenes of peasant life and Christian symbols are carved in bas relief. The baptismal font is the work of Catalan craftsmen of the 15th century. Particular and unique in Sardinia is the conformation of the diagonal buttresses of the façade. The earliest information on the Church of Santa Maria de Pauli dates back to the 12th century. Its Greek cross layout is surmounted by a 19th-century dome. It is only open in September to celebrate the Virgin of Montserrat, just prior to the harvest rituals. Within are housed works by artist Gianni Argiolas, including the ‘Painting of the Procession’. Another illustrious local is painter Cesare Cabras (1886-1968), whose works are on display inside the town hall. A stand-out amongst the Monserrato traditions is the luxurious traditional women’s clothing.