The Barbagia is the heart of Sardinia. A vast territory that encompasses the slopes of the Gennargentu, the massive mountain range at the centre of the island, and the lower peaks that surround it. The name Barbaria comes from the fact that it was here that the Sardinians took refuge as they resisted the onslaught of Carthaginians and Romans. There is, in fact, more than one Barbagia and the area is composed of various historical regions: the Barbagia of Belvì, of Bitti (the northernmost area), of Nuoro, Ollolai and of Seulo (the southernmost), as well as the area of the Mandrolisai, west of Gennargentu. You will be enchanted by the picturesque historic centres of the small towns, with their granite houses, coortes and the overhanging vines that line the narrow streets. Like, for example, at Gavoi, home of the famous Fiore Sardo cheese. At Orgosolo the streets seem to talk to you via the murales, wall paintings that tell of life, culture and local politics. The Barbagia is famous for the internationally renowned cannonau wines made at Mamoiada, Oliena and Dorgali.
If you love outdoor activity then go to the Supramonte, where the white of the rocks, the green of the vegetation and the blue sky come together with stunning chromatic beauty. At Oliena you’ll find the su Gologone springs and the valle di Lanaittu, where the island’s oldest human remains have come to light, and the village of Tiscali, where, legend has it, the last Sardinians sought refuge from invading conquerors. At Orgosolo you can go to the Montes forest and enjoy gorgeous views of the top of mount Novu santu Juvanne. You can walk all the way to the lovely Nuraghe Mereu, built with white calcareous rock, and the impressive Gorropu canyon, with 450m high walls, home of the royal eagle.
For a well-rounded understanding of Barbagian culture and tradition, visit the Museum of Sardinian Life and Popular Traditions in Nuoro. And to really satisfy your curiosity, don’t miss the carnival-like costumes, whose origins reach back to pagan fertility rites. Sheepskins, cow bells and masks depicting animal-like snouts and deformed faces symbolise the eternal battle between good and evil, life and death, the conqueror and the conquered. The most famous costumes are the Mamuthones of Mamoiada, the Thurpos at Orotelli and the Merdules of Ottana. The masks can also be seen at the museum of the Maschere del Mediterraneo in Mamoiada. Another local tradition is Tenores chant-like singing, which has earned a well-deserved place on the UNESCO Intangible World Heritage list. Its origins date back to time immemorial, when shepherds far from home in winter would gather around a fire and sing. If you miss hearing a live performance, you can listen to historic renditions at the Museo multimediale del Canto a Tenores in Bitti.