Monday, October 8, 2012

Archaeology Part 2

Full disclosure: I wrote that last post from Cagliari (Sardinia). Here in the courtyard of the youth hostel, it’s some teenager’s birthday. I can’t tell whose—no one is wearing a birthday hat, but they’re doing awkward teenagery dances, girls on one side and boys on the other, and eating potato chips—possibly from the potatochiperia across the way. Deep-frying is big in Cagliari. [Further disclosure: I left the courtyard a day and a half ago. I’m now writing from the wilds of eastern Sardinia.]

I took an overnight ferry from Naples. My last view of Vesuvius:

The line that serves the Naples-Cagliari run supposedly went bankrupt and was bailed out by the Italian government, which would make the ship’s tattered Love Boat-era glamor all the more poignant. Mirrored brass, semicircular sofas, polyester epaulettes on the aging hospitality crew. I was going to tough it out in a second-class seat but at the last minute sprang for a bunk (11 euros: well-spent).

I took a dramomine, anticipating seasickness, wrapped myself up in sweaters, and passed out under the malfunctioning air vent at 9 p.m., which mean that, uncharacteristically, I was up before dawn. I had the deck to myself for hours.

Cagliari kinda has it all, in miniature: an arcaded waterfront lined with cafes, then a warren of close cobblestoned streets and steps leading up to the Castello, a walled city dating to the Pisan conquest of the island. My hostel is just outside these ramparts.

This part of town is full of hippies and performance troupes and Rastafarians. Therefore, as soon as I woke up I packed a lunch and headed for another part of town. I climbed a dusty, trash-strewn hill to an empty park. Looking down, I saw that I was next to a cemetery—probably the one Luc told me about a few years ago when he got back from a literary festival in Cagliari.

The Momumental Cemetery of Bonaria was established in the 1820s after one too many outbreaks of cholera in the city. Most of the crypts are decorated with photographs.

This is as good a place as any to say that I have found Sardinia to be strange, lonely, and mysterious. 

It’s not in my guidebook. It apparently isn’t an attraction at all. Certainly, no one is paying to maintain the cemetery. It has become its own sort of ruin.

As soon as they started burying people, they encountered crypts everywhere. A serious, gothy young guy with a ponytail was staffing the office when I came in. He unlocked this Roman crypt and let me look inside. The pictures were uninteresting… just some holes in a cave. He also showed me the log of the dead.

I saw on a tourist map I picked up at the hostel that there was a Roman amphitheater in town. Still feeling vaguely guilty about missing all the archaeology in Naples, I went off in search of it. It looked like it should be on the western downslope of the Castello. I wandered around for a while and found myself on a little hilltop promenade lined with exhausted trees, a few empty cafes, some bums sleeping on benches. It reminded me of a park in, let’s say, a Bulgarian resort town circa 1979.

I walked along looking over the wall. Was this the amphitheater?


I was a bit disappointed to actually find it--but not at all displeased with its casual Sardinian presentation. 


  1. beautiful. I so want to go there with rolls of tape and plexiglass before the dead fade away.

  2. Love that cemetery. I managed to get myself locked in--the gatekeeper went off to lunch--and I had to hunt quite a while before I found a gate I could scale.