Sassari, located nine kilometers from the coast in the Asinara Gulf is the fifth largest Italian city (546,08km2). Sassari’s land, which is a mixture of hills and fertile plains slowly disappearing into the sea, has been a blessing for the city for many centuries.
Sassari, a lesser-known destination in Sardinia is still a fascinating city. If you’re traveling around the north side of the island you might add it to your list and spend some time exploring the surroundings.
A Short History of Sassari
This area has been inhabited since prehistoric times as evidenced by the Domus de Janas, 150+ nuraghe, and many menhirs. It also contains a unique building, the altar of Monte d’Accoddi. This sacred burial ground, a pyramid-like structure, was allegedly used up to the end of Bronze Age.
Sassari was continuously inhabited during the Nuragic, Roman eras. However, it became a separate city in the Middle Ages. This happened when people living in Porto Torres (back in those days Turris Libisonis), fled the coast to escape the Saracenic invasions. After Sassari was made an ally of Genova, the first defensive towers and walls were constructed during this period.
The Giudicato di Arborea’s last capital, it was made an Aragonese colony by the Aragonese in 1420. It remained as such until the Savoy family purchased the entire of Sardinia. Sassari grew rapidly and became a prosperous, trade-oriented, city just like it was before the colonizers’ greed. It also survived several plagues and continued to develop and follow Sardinia’s history.
Sassari was always a chaotic city. Uprisings and cultural revolutions have been constants in the city. More than one governor has been driven away by Sassari’s ferocious people. Many artists have found their ideal work environment there. These have brought about unstoppable changes over the centuries in customs and ideals. This has made Sassari a city of innovation, such as the founding in 1617 of the first Sardinian University.
Sassari’s constant quest for improvement and change is what made it the city it is today. It is full of historic relics, buildings and artifacts from all periods and many artistic influences. Let’s finally see the must-see places when you visit Sassari!
Things to Do in Sassari (Italy)
I Candelieri Festival
The annual Candelieri Festival is held every year on the 14th August. It has been going on for more than 700 years.
It is a celebration to honor Our Lady of the Assumption who is known for stopping three plagues from ravaging the island. The Descent of Candelieri is the centerpiece of the celebrations. During this event, the “Gremi”, which are nine workers guilds in Sardinia walk through town with enormous, ornately-decorated candles.
This festival, which is held every year on the last Sunday of May, celebrates beauty. Sassari is a place where people come from all over the island to parade in traditional costumes and jewelry. There are also horses, equestrian races, and horseback acrobatics.
While attendance is free if you’d rather sit down, grab a ticket at TicketOk Sassari – it only costs EUR10.
If you’re going on a walking tour through Sassari, this is the best place to start. Its name derives from an ancient Aragonese castle (Castello), which was built in 14 century. It was demolished in 1877 and considered a symbol of oppression and slave labor since it had belonged to Spanish colonizers.
A portion of the original building can still be seen. It has been excavated and is open for visitors. This square, which has been the heart of the city’s community since 1300, is still loved by its inhabitants. It represents the intersection between the old Sassari architecture and the new, represented by Piazza Italia.
It is located right outside of medieval fortifications. This was one of the earliest urban innovations of 19th century. The defensive walls were removed and the city was expanded and partly rebuilt to meet the needs of modern society.
The square’s centre is home to a statue of Vittorio Emuele II, sculpted in the style of Giuseppe Sartorio. The inauguration of the square marked the beginning of a significant and important event in Sassari, the Cavalcata Sarda.
Like Piazza Castello it is a popular spot for tourists and locals to meet. It leads to Palazzo Sciuti which is the headquarters of the Provincial Government and was once the home of Kings and Queens who visited Sassari. Palazzo Giordano is a gorgeous Gothic palace dating back to 1878 and is the main branch of a large bank chain.
Continue walking from here to find more important pieces and historical information about Sassari, including its most stunning churches.
San Nicola da Bari Cathedral
Duomo is a common name for the church. However, it was already a sacred space of paleo-Christians from earlier times. It is now largely demolished, although you can still see some of its original components under the apsis.
The church is considered an architectural gem. Despite its many styles, it still looks beautiful and complete. It is the most important church in town and you won’t be disappointed.
Santa Maria di Betlem Church
Another beautiful church. Its Romanic exterior hides a magnificent, lavish Gothic interior structure. This is despite its modest appearance. The statue of Madonna di Betlem, or Della Rosa, is its symbol. It is made from polychrome wood. You will be astonished by its beauty.
Fontana di Rosello
You’ve visited these important religious monuments. Now, find a peaceful place to rest after you’ve seen them.
This beautiful fountain, which is unanimously Sassari’s symbol, is situated next to the homonymous bridge and hill. It was created to represent the endless flow of time represented by its twelve mouths (the years) and four statues (4 the seasons).
It was a remarkable innovation in design and style when it was constructed (beginning of 17th century), and has been enjoyed by both artists and commoners ever since. The original statue is the one that remains. Three of the three other statues were destroyed in an uprising.
Sassari’s public parks are situated in the city centre and cover approximately 2900 square metres. The gardens were established in 1870, and are now divided into three distinct areas. Via Tavolara is located between Viale Italia and Via Tavolara. It is the only one with child-friendly spots.
Via Tavolara to Via Coppino is the second largest and contains a variety of trees, both native and foreign. There are also two spectacular fountains. Via Manno and Viale Italia are the last two areas. They are primarily used for resting by urban subway riders.
The many cafes and shops along this walking route are a great place to stop for a break after or during your touristy adventures. The idea of a large, circular square for people to meet was the original plan. However, the project was not completed.
Museo Nazionale Sanna
This museum is Sardinia’s best. It was founded in 1931 as a private collection of artworks. The museum has seven rooms and displays the artworks in a well-organized manner. This museum is a must-see for all lovers of Sardinian art and history.
Italian food is highly regional and even more so for those who live in the region. A guided tour is a great way to get a taste of the local cuisine. Guided tours will usually take you to the market, and offer several tastings or a full meal at their end.
There are many things to do in Sassari. It would be impossible for me to give you an exhaustive list. But, let’s get to know what you can do in the area of Sassari.
Sassari lies right in the middle of the Asinara Gulf. It would be a shame not to visit this island. Although you may be familiar with the island’s symbol, the white donkeys, there are many more things to do.
Since ancient times, the Asinara island was inhabited. It is also home to a prison that has held a number of dangerous criminals. The island’s conformation and the sea make it almost impossible for them to escape.
You will be able to meet more than just a guide if you decide to spend a day there. He will share all things Asinara related with you. It’s definitely worth the effort and I recommend that you plan to visit. If you’re not a fan of Sardinian fauna or high-security-jail-related stories, there’s still plenty of peaceful beaches to sunbathe at.
Click here to take a guided tour around Asinara Island.
You should also read my article The Ultimate Guide To Asinara Island.
La Pelosa Beach
You can’t forget about the famous beaches of La Pelosa in the Stintino region.
La Pelosa beach is often regarded as one of Europe’s most beautiful beaches. It’s very popular and can get crowded. My advice is to go there early.
You can also check out my posts, A Short Guide to Stintino and A Quick guide To La Pelosa.
Alghero is a must-see if you are staying in Sardinia for a while. Because of its Catalan influence, it is known as “Sardinian Barcelona”. Its inhabitants speak Catalan and hold religious rites almost identical to those in Barcelona. It is a charming, unique city that you will fall in love with.
You can also check out my post, A Complete Guide to Alghero.
Castelsardo is another place you should not miss. Castelsardo was established by the Genoese Doria families. Its name derives from the castle (castello), that is located above it. It is well-known for its Holy Week rites and for its beautiful beaches. The Museo dell’Intreccio Mediterraneo is another museum worth visiting.
History of Sardinia
The Basilica di Saccargia is a great attraction for those who are looking to be near Sassari. It is located in Codrongianos, a village near Sassari. It was built on the pre-existing ruin of a monastery. The financial support of Costantino I di Torres allowed it to be completed in 1116.
It was built in Romanic-Pisan style. The church is a stunning sight from afar.
Check out my post, The Most Beautiful Churches in Sardinia.
Monte d’Accoddi Altar
This structure is unique to Sardinia, and cannot be found anywhere else in Europe. Archaeologists consider it a very mysterious building. Its form recalls a Mesopotamian ziggurat and was used as a sacred altar or temple.
Historians believe it was built before the Nuragic period. They aren’t sure who, how or why, particularly since there isn’t any other ruin like it in the area. It is believed that the temple was built by a Sumerian priest exiled to Sardinia.
Villa Piercy, which is about 80 km from Sassari, is a little further. However, it’s well worth the effort. It was built by Benjamin Piercy, a British nobleman who was responsible for supervising railroad construction work. It was his private home and hosted parties for the most powerful people of the time. You can enjoy a large and impressive garden with many exotic plants.