The tower, site of the martyrdom of Saint Barbara, is the symbol of and marks, with yellow on blue, the 500 km route of the Santa Barbara mine Cammino. It is to her that the miners prayed before going down into the darkness of the pits, well aware of the grave risks and hardship. Yet they loved and felt the natural beauty and spiritual charm of these places as their own, proud of the hard, sometimes inhumane labour that was their only hope for a future for their families. The mine also employed women and children, in food halls or in post-extraction activities. Hundreds of people lived in communities in the villages that sprung up around the pits and tunnels, self-sufficient islands in a wild and spectacular setting, with emergency medical aid, schools, shops and, of course, chapels that were always open to welcome the heartfelt appeals of the miners to their patron saint.
Gravel paths, dirt roads, mule trails and abandoned railway tracks of the Sulcis, Iglesiente and Giuspinese areas. It is over these that the Cammino takes you as it touches dozens of sites protected by the Geo-mineral Park of Sardinia, from Monteponi to Montevecchio, all the way to Serbariu, just to name a few. The trails, once used by the miners, are now revitalised thanks to the Cammino and embody the spirit of the territories they go through, made up of rugged hills rich in deposits overlooking beautiful coastal stretches. The Cammino is made up of 30 stages, and in each one you will come across the ruins of mines and their melancholy abandoned villages, all competing with nature as it strives to gain the upper hand. Some stages reach little villages into which new life has breathed, such as Villaggio Rosas at Narcao or Ingurtosu at Arbus, oases providing rest and meditation for the pilgrims. Here you can grasp the exhausting daily life once led by the miners as you now safely enter the bowels of the earth and, accompanied by guides, walk through the tunnels dug deep into the mountain side where, until the last century, carts laden with extracted minerals were pushed at a frenetic pace.
Thanks to the memories and labour of the former miners, the old extraction routes have now been reopened and turned into a looped trail, with Iglesias as its starting and ending point. It is a Cammino that is both lay and religious, a walk that offers spiritual nourishment few other similar places can claim. Step after step, walking over the oldest terrain of Europe, you immerse yourself in beautiful power of nature. From the basalt and granite oak-forest draped mountains of the Marganai, home to spectacular grottos like San Giovanni at Domusnovas and the impetuous Piscina Irgas waterfall, all the way to the cobalt blue sea along a coastal trail of white cliffs. Here you’ll find the arches of majestic “temples,” like the La Marmora washery at Nebida, as they stand out above the shoreline, and watch boats bob on the sea in the shade of like-worthy faraglioni. This is what you’ll find in Masua, where Porto Flavia faces the Pan di Zucchero. You can immerse yourself in the brilliant sandy dunes of Piscinas, from which you can gaze at stunningly beautiful, seemingly interminable sunsets. These are the emotions that accompany the pilgrims of Santa Barbara.
Fascinating contrasts and leaps back in time alternate along the route: a rugged land that is also verdant acts as a backdrop both for the patrimony of industrial archaeological as for the legacy of ancestral Sardinia, like the nuraghes and domus de Janas.
One of the Mediterranean’s oldest cities, once called Sulky, now Sant’Antioco, surrounded by lagoons and salt flats, stands in juxtaposition to recent history (less than a century’s worth) and the rationalist architecture of Carbonia. Then there is the contradiction of industrialised Sulcis as it relates to former fishing villages, like Portoscuso and Carloforte. All you need to explore these fascinating dynamics are good legs for walking that can withstand stretches that average some 16 kilometres. Study the routes on a map and ask for information at the CMSB Foundation, who provide walkers both with the Cammino credentials and assistance at every stage. It takes about a month to complete the entire loop and we suggest you take it slowly and perhaps split it up in more than one visit, ideal in Spring or Autumn when the experience will remain imprinted on your heart and soul long after you get home.