The town looks over a valley, surrounded by ancient woodland and set among impressive mountain peaks that acted as refuge and points of control in antiquity. Olzai is a small town in the Barbagia di Ollolai, with a wealth of traditions and events that take place in November as part of the Autunno in Barbagia event. It played a key role in the medieval Sardinian struggle against the Catalan-Aragonese invaders. Even after conquest, it remained hostile to its Iberian rulers. In the early 20th century it was named "the town of the graduates" thanks to its high rate of literacy (for the time) and number of graduates. Today, the 900 inhabitants have held on to ancient customs: bread-making, engraving and choir music. The paved roads and alleyways of the historical centre are lined with granite houses, set around the 14th century Church of Santa Barbara, who is celebrated in late August. Inside the church is an 18th century wooden cross, used for the s’Iscravamentu during Holy Week, and the famous Retablo della Pestilenza by the ‘Maestro d’Olzai’. Other fine examples of religious architecture include the Church of Sant’Anastasio (XVI 16th century) in Catalan-Gothic style, which hosts the Retablo della Sacra Famiglia and the 15th century parish Church of San Giovanni Battista – whose patron saint is celebrated in late June - which was extended in the 17th century and completed with a belltower in 1738, and which has a marble altar and inlaid walnut choir. Don't miss the house-museum of artist Carmelo Floris, the town's most famous personage. The art gallery in the town hall is also dedicated to him, and has a collection of more than 250 works. The painter/engraver was constantly inspired by the fairy-tale Olzai landscape, which is ideal for excursions along paths that climb to peaks from which you can admire boundless panoramas, from Gennargentu to the Tirso valley.
Following a devastating flood, a monumental flood barrier was built in the centre in 1921 to contain the River Bisine. The winter floods were used to drive the watermills and grind grain up until the 20th century. Just outside the town, you can visit the last functioning watermill (of the seven that were in function in 1911): su Mulinu vezzu. Built in granite, it is a majestic work of pre-industrial hydraulic engineering, surrounded by nature. This is the starting point for the climb to Mount Gulana, cloaked in holm oaks and home to rare birds of prey, with natural attractions such as su Nodu de su malune. On the peak, you will find enormous blocks of stone, where a castle, possibly Byzantine, used to stand; it is mentioned as far back as the early 19th century and is surrounded by legends of fantastic treasures hidden in the cellars. To the south-west is the artificial Lake Benzone, used to produce electricity and a habitat for eels, carp and trout. The nearby hills are dotted with the remains of 11 Nuraghes (of 17 catalogued in the early 20th century). The main Bronze Age remains are the Giants' tombs s’Ena ‘e sa Vacca, long believed to be a dolmen due to the slab used to cover them, but with the typical rows and exedra structure of Nuragic tombs.