The museum is in Castiadas, where it occupies one wing of the management building of the former penal colony, built in 1877.
On 11 August 1875, 30 inmates and seven guards from the Prison of San Bartolomeo in Cagliari, led by prison inspector Eugenio Cicognani, landed on the nearby beach of Cala Sinzias. Their task was to work in the local countryside, deserted and uncultivated since the Aragonese period due to malaria and the frequent outbreaks of the plague, reclaiming its swamplands and turning them into arable land.
Thus was the penal colony erected on a hillock called Praidis, bounded by two streams: it included the management building, the prison blocks called 'mandre', the guards' barracks, the military garrison, and ancillary buildings (smiths' and carpenters' workshops) and the infirmary. As time went by, a network of roads and infrastructure came into being, and reclamation works were carried out in the areas where ten detachments of the penal colony were to be constructed, planned as largely self sufficient communities, but also able to sell their products. The prisoners in these colonies grew legumes and cereals, mulberries, olives, oranges, almonds, lemons, grapes and produced charcoal, and raised cattle, sheep and pigs. Their living conditions were extremely harsh, under strict discipline and in very unsanitary conditions (they were exposed to malaria, but also TBC, typhoid fevers and gastroenteritis) which led to the death of many a convict. Eventually, the mounting public indignation at the convicts' appalling fate led to a gradual improvement in their living conditions.
During the Fascist period, the area, by now transformed by the reclamation and farming work, came under the management of the a national agency for the farming of uncultivated land, which later became a regional agency (Ente Sardo). The penal colony was closed down for good in 1952 when ETFAS, a Regional land reclamation agency, was created. With its 6253 hectares, at one time it was the largest agricultural penal colony in Italy.
The buildings of the former colony are undergoing renovation works with a view to transforming them into cultural heritage centres. The project is to house here a museum of country life and traditional crafts, such as barrel-making, basket-weaving, rope making and carpet weaving. The management wing houses a permanent exhibition on the history of the penal colony. The main theme is the presentation of local traditions and prison life. The museum is on two floors: the ground floor with two corridors. the first floor, with a corridor and a terrace. Along the corridor open about ten rooms. Some rooms have traditional furniture, garments, sculptures and paintings. In addition to the management wing, the solitary confinement cells and the prison Director's villa can be visited.
Address: località Praidis - 09040 Castiadas Phone +39 070 99450307 - +39 070 99450319 - +39 070 9947200 (Municipality) - +39 328 4629860 (Cooperativa Sette Fratelli) Managing Agency: Municipality of Castiadas