The walls embrace a large garden where nature, history, culture and wellness reign. Monte Claro park sits on the summit of the eponymous hill, in the centre of Cagliari, a short distance from another of the seven hills on which the capital was built, San Michele hill. This park spreads out over 25 hectares delineated by walls that once encircled an old psychiatric hospital. In the late 19th century, the Province of Cagliari rented the area to house the unwell, and over time it became the pavilions of the hospital. All around were orchards, vineyards and crop fields where sometimes even the patients worked. The hospital was shut down in 1998 and the entire area was repurposed as a city park, opening in 2001. The main building, Villa Clara, where the hospital’s director once lived, is now the metropolitan library.
When you enter from the main gate, you’ll walk over a road lined by oak trees, alongside which are some of the stone “sound” sculptures done by the artist Pinuccio Sciola. If you rub one with your hand or a small stone, it makes pleasant sounds. The road winds past a picturesque pond home to water turtles, swans, geese and ducks. As you continue, you’ll come across the ‘fontana logo’, a pond equipped with technology that stages a fantastic series of jets of water. The symbol of the park is next to it: a stylised twig. The logo echoes a decoration from a bowl found in a tomb discovered in 1905. Monte Claro is, in fact, an archaeologically important area: the culture of Monte Claro gets its name from the traces of a pre-Nuragic settlement discovered here. The park is also home to the remains of a building that may have been used as a sacred well and, not far away, a mysterious 4th century BCE tomb where various amphora and the bones of a couple, buried in an embrace, were found. The mystery thickens, as this was the only Punic Age tomb discovered on the hill from an era when the vast, nearby necropolis of Tuvixeddu was still in use.
Aside from the historical and archaeological aspects, Monte Claro will surprise you for the richness of the vegetation that thrives here: carob, mastic, oleander, olive, pine, oak and willow trees, as well as mulberries, roses and hibiscus bushes. The tropical garden is home to such aromatic plants as laurel, myrtle and rosemary. The park is an ideal place for a nice jog or walk. Sports fields have also been laid out here, especially for soccer and five-a-side football, and there is a skating rink. There are even two areas set aside especially for dogs. Monte Claro is also a venue, especially in summer, for shows, concerts and a variety of cultural events.