An island within the Island, a magical place with unique characteristics. The Giara is a basalt plateau on the border between the Marmilla and Sarcidano regions: it rises abruptly to an altitude of 550 metres, dominating the surrounding flat landscape, rippled only by ‘gentle’, fertile hills. On the top, there is a twelve-kilometre long and slightly sloping ecosystem where rare animals and plants are preserved. To differentiate it from the nearby ‘smaller’ Giara plateaus of Serri and Siddi, it is called Jara manna (large), or Giara di Gesturi, a Municipality containing approximately half of its entire area (45 square kilometres). The other half is divided between Genoni (1600 hectares), Tuili (450) and Setzu (250). Its area also involves Albagiara, Assolo, Genuri, Gonnosnò, Nuragus, Senis and Sini. Each one has nature, archaeological and artistic sites and ethnographic museums, covered by a network of itineraries that can be enjoyed on foot, by bike or on horseback.
‘Giara’ may have evolved from glarea, or ‘ghiaia’ in Italian (meaning gravel), indicating the stoniness of the ground. Its origin comes from lava flows during eruptions that took place 2.7 million years ago on a sandy bedrock from two craters that are now extinct: Zepparedda, summit of the plateau (609 metres), and Zeppara Manna, the most scenic point. It was not the plateau that rose up but the surrounding lands that were lowered, as they were not protected by effusive rock and were eroded by water and wind. Sa Roja lies between the two volcanic cones and is a fault that runs across the plateau with a step of 30 metres. The steep sides have been ‘affected’ by landslides generated by torrents that arise at the springs of the plateau and descend along the edges. This is the origin of is scalas, access routes to the plateau, of which you will discover the geological history in the Geo-paleosite of Duidduru, and in the Paleo Archaeo Centre di Genoni. The isolated location has maintained a plant and wildlife heritage that has disappeared elsewhere, thanks to which Giara has been a site of European Community interest since 1995. It is covered in lush woods, centuries-old species of cork oak, often ‘forced’ to grow slanted by the northwesterly ‘maestrale’ wind. Then there are holm oaks, downy oaks, strawberry trees, lentisk trees and myrtle. In spring, the plateau is filled with colours and scents: there are helichrysum, asphodels and cysts are in bloom, as well as expanses of cyclamen and orchids and a yellow cloak of morisia, an endemic plant that gives its name to the botanical garden in the park. The most spectacular places are is paulis, depressions where rainwater stagnates. There are dozens of them, mostly modest and of short duration. In some cases, they are quite big and they last throughout the year, as with the two named pauli maiori. In springtime, the ponds are covered with a white cloak of buttercups, while in summer they dry up and look like ‘lunar’ expanses. The autumn rains colour them with the dark red of the tamarisk trees and a thin layer of ice often covers them in winter. They are the habitat of a rich microfauna, including two tiny crustaceans, ‘living fossils’ unchanged for millions of years. They are also the home of the western marsh harrier, the black-winged stilt and the mallard. The plateau is famous for its small horses, a unique case of a wild horse colony in Europe. Is cuaddedus gallop in small groups between the bushes, take shelter in the shade of the cork oak woods, drink in the pauli and are greedy for buttercups. Their origin is lost somewhere between legend and history. In the Middle Ages, entire herds populated the island and gradually disappeared. Today, about 700 of them graze in the wild on the Giara plateau: they have a thick mane, a long tail and a slender build, giving them surprising grace despite their size and wild nature. Completing the wildlife, there are wild boar, weasels, hares, martens, foxes and 60 species of bird, including various birds of prey.
The Giara is an unassailable natural fortress, with escarpment walls similar to bastions. A long bulwark against invaders, today it contains traces of a very distant past. A system of nuraghi presided over is scalas: there are 24 of them on the summit, mostly of the single tower type; the double ones and those with two or more towers were lined up at the foot and on the slopes. On the southeastern edge stands the Bruncu Madugui, the most impressive Sardinian protonuraghe with the remains of huts grouped in blocks. Some complexes were also frequented during the Punic-Roman era: Pranu Omus in Genoni, Santa Luisa in Tuili and San Lussorio in Albagiara; others arise next to springs: such as the nuraghe Scab’i Ois, near the spring of the park of Cracchera. The Giara is crossed by the longest stretch of paved Roman road on the Island: seven kilometres! In the Middle Ages only shepherds were already frequenting the plateau: evidence of this is le pinnettas, shelters similar to Nuragic huts.