Picture yourself discovering the material and immaterial traditions and modern history of a people, all in a single place. There is such a place, in Nuoro, in a complex of buildings that houses the Museum of Life and Popular Sardinian Traditions, once known as the ISRE (Istituto superiore regionale etnografico), the most complete ethnographic exhibition in all of Sardinia. Built between the 1950s and 60s on Sant’Onofrio hill, it was designed by Antonio Simon Mossa and is today one of Sardinia’s most popular museums thanks to the well thought-out representation of the island’s fascinating cultural and crafts. The museum is divided into three areas of six rooms each. You’ll see the tangible signs of Sardinian culture: garments dating to the early 1900s, both daily wear and ceremonial dress – some of which are used during the Sagra del Redentore, Nuoro’s main festival – fabrics woven on traditional looms, a vast collection of jewellery and amulets, of arms and tools, some 60 traditional musical instruments (including toy instruments) and wooden carnival masks that reflect archaic pagan rites. There are even old cow bells and sheepskins. There are special rooms dedicated to Thurpos and Eritaju from Orotelli, Boes and Merdules from Ottana and Mamuthones and Issohadores from Mamoiada. The museum also features ancient baking traditions, with more than 600 varieties of local breads, some of them very real works of art. There is a room with auditorium for temporary exhibits, concerts, theatre and the showing of international documentaries. You will love the ethnographic films shown during the International Cineteca Biennial and the pictures from the visual anthropology photographic archives.
ISRE also stands for “spread out” museum system: the Headquarters is on Via Mereu, on the outskirts of town, and fans out into a network of other theme museums literally spread out over the city centre, part of an ambitious local identity route throughout the area. The historic Seuna district is home to the birthplace of Grazia Deledda, the city’s most important literary site. It preserves the memory of an author who opened Sardinia up to the world. You can delve into the more than 30,000 books at the Specialised Ethno-anthropological and Museological Library. Nuoro is Sardinia’s Athens, steeped in ancient culture. At a panoramic spot next to the cathedral of Santa Maria della Neve is the Tribu cultural centre and the Ciusa Museum, where the works of Venice Biennale winner (1907) Francesco Ciusa are on display. This artist, the Nobel author Deledda and scholars Salvatore and Sebastiano Satta made the city famous. A bit further on is the MAN, the celebrated art museum that houses international exhibitions and permanent shows by XX century Sardinian artists.