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Nuraghe Arrubiu, Orroli

The nuraghe [nuˈraɡe] (plural Italian nuraghi, Sardinian Logudorese nuraghes / Sardinian Campidanese nuraxis) is the main type of ancient megalithic edifice found in Sardinia, developed during the Nuragic Age between 1900 and 730 BCE.[1] Today it has come to be the symbol of Sardinia and its distinctive culture, the Nuragic civilization. More than 7000 nuraghi have been found, though archeologists believe that originally there were not fewer than 10,000.[2]

Nuraghe Santa Barbara, Macomer


According to the Oxford English Dictionary the etymology is "uncertain and disputed": "The word is perhaps related to the Sardinian place names Nurra, Nurri, Nurru, and to Sardinian nurra 'heap of stones, cavity in earth' (although these senses are difficult to reconcile). A connection with the Semitic base of Arabic nūr 'light, fire, etc.' is now generally rejected."[3] The Latin word murus ('wall') may be related to it,[4] as the old Italian word mora ('tombal rock mound'), as used by Dante in his Comedy. However, the derivation: murus*muraghe–nuraghe is debated.

An etymological theory suggests a Proto-Basque origin by the term *nur (stone) with the common -ak plural ending;[5] the Paleo-Sardinian suffix -ake, also found in some Indo-European languages such as Latin and Greek.[6] Another possible explanation is that Nuraghe came from the name of mythological hero Norax, and the root *nur would be an adaptation of the Indo-European root *nor.[7]

Density map (Nuraghes per km2)

General layout[edit]

The typical nuraghe is situated in areas where previous prehistoric Sardinian cultures had been distributed, that is not far from alluvial plains (though few nuraghi appear in plains nowadays, as they were destroyed by human activities such as agriculture, dams and others) and has the shape of a truncated conical tower resembling a medieval tower (outside) or a beehive (inside). The structure's walls consist of three components: an outer layer shaped like a tower (tilted inwards and made of many layers of stones whose size diminishes with height: mostly, lower layers consist of rubble masonry, while upper layers tend to ashlar masonry), an inner layer, made of smaller stones (to form a bullet shaped dome called "tholos", and where ashlar masonry is used more frequently), and an intermediate layer of very small pieces and dirt, which makes the whole construction very sturdy: it stands only by virtue of the weight of its stones, which may each amount to several tons. Some nuraghes are about 20 meters (60 ft) in height, the tallest one known, Nuraghe Arrubiu, reached a height of 25–30 meters.[8] The entrance leads into a corridor, on whose sides are often open niches, that leads to the round chamber. A spiral stone stair, leading to upper floors (if present) and/or to a terrace, was built within the thick walls and it was illuminated by embrasures.

Today, there are fewer than 7,000 nuraghes still existing in Sardinia, although their number was originally larger. Nuraghes are most prevalent in the northwest and south-central parts of the island.[9]


Nuraghe La Prisciona, Nuraghe village near Arzachena, Sardinia

There is no consensus on the function of the nuraghes: they could have been rulers' residences, military strongholds, meeting halls, religious temples, ordinary dwellings or a combination of the former. Some of the nuraghes are, however, located in strategic places – such as hills– from which important passages could be easily controlled. They might have been something between a "status symbol" and a "passive defence" building, meant to be a deterrent for possible enemies.

Nuraghes could also have been the "national" symbol of the Nuragic peoples. Small-scale models of nuraghe have often been excavated at religious sites (e.g. in the "maze" temple at the Su Romanzesu site near Bitti in central Sardinia). Nuraghes may have just connoted wealth or power, or they may have been an indication that a site had its owners. Recent unconfirmed theories tend to suggest that Sardinian towns were independent entities (such as the city-states, although in a geographical sense they were not cities) that formed federations and that the building of these monuments might have depended on agreed-on distributions of territory among federated unities.

In 2002, Juan Belmonte and Mauro Zedda measured the entrance orientations (declinations and azimuths) of 272 simple nuraghes and of the central towers of 180 complex ones. The data revealed clear peaks corresponding to orientations pointing to the sunrise at winter solstice and to the Moon at its southernmost rising position. These alignments remained constant throughout the history of nuraghe.[10] The most common declinations revealed were of around −43° for the earlier nuraghes, shifting to just −45½° for the later. Zedda has suggested that the target is likely a star, quite possibly Alpha Centauri.[10]


Protonuraghe Bruncu Madugui, Gesturi
Nuraghe Santa Barbara, Villanova Truschedu an example of A tancato Nuraghe.


It's the most archaic typology. Protonuraghe differ significantly from the later classical Nuraghi in their stockier look and their generally irregular plan and because they don't present the large circular room, typical of the classical Nuraghe, but one or more corridors, or in any case smaller environments.

Mixed Nuraghe[edit]

This type is distinguished by the restorations made in later times, supposedly due to a change of the Protonuraghi design, or for other needs.

Nuraghe di Santa Sabina, from Silanus, an example of Monotower Nuraghe.

Monotower Nuraghe[edit]

It's the Nuraghe par excellence and represent the most diffused typology. The single tower, of a truncated conical shape, accommodates within itself one or more superimposed chambers, covered by a Tholoi. The access, generally located at the ground level, leads into a passageway that leads, in the front, into the central chamber and in one side (usually the left) in the helical staircase, built inside the wall mass, that lead to the terrace or to the upper-floor chamber.

In addition to the usual circular rooms, in their inside can be found other smaller environments such as niches.

A tancato Nuraghe[edit]

They represent the evolution of the Monotower Nuraghi; to the main tower was added in a second time another circular building, connected to the original tower via two enclosing curtain walls, inside them there was a courtyard, sometimes provided with a well.

Nuraghe Palmavera, Alghero
Nuraghe Seruci, Gonnesa

Polylobed Nuraghe[edit]

Also called Nuragic royal palaces, the polylobed Nuraghi are the least frequent typology. Very elaborate and often designed in a unified manner, constituted veritable fortress with several towers linked by high ramparts, whose function was to protect the central tower.

Plan of Nuraghe Arrubiu

These "Megalithic castles" were surrounded by additional walls, sometimes also provided with towers (the so-called bulwark).

Notable nuraghes[edit]

Nuraghes are inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list. Su Nuraxi di Barumini, in the south of the island, has been chosen to represent all the nuragic patrimony, but one of the highest and most complex Nuraghes is the Nuraghe Santu Antine near the village of Torralba, in northern Sardinia. Other famous nuraghi are near Alghero (Nuraghe Palmavera), Macomer, Abbasanta (see Losa), Orroli (Nuraghe Arrubiu), Gonnesa (Nuraghe Seruci) and Villanovaforru.

Cultural significance[edit]

There is a similar type of structure which has a corridor or a system of corridors. Some authors consider them somewhat older than the typical nuraghe and probably serving different purposes. The nuraghes were built between the middle of the Bronze Age (18th-15th centuries BCE) and the Late Bronze Age. This clearly rules out any possible cultural correlation with later towers such as Scottish Brochs (dating mainly to the 1st centuries BCE and CE). The claim that the El-Ahwat structures from Israel might be related is strongly contested; those are dated to either the 12th or the 11th century BCE. The only buildings widely accepted as being related to nuraghes are the torri (plural of torre) from Corsica and the talaiots from Minorca and Majorca.

According to Massimo Pallottino, a scholar of Sardinian prehistory and an Etruscologist, the architecture produced by the Nuragic civilization was the most advanced of any in the western Mediterranean during this epoch, including those in the regions of Magna Graecia.[11] Of the 7,000 extant nuraghes, only a few have been scientifically excavated.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Depalmas, A. and R. T. Melis, "The Nuragic People: their settlements, economic activities and use of the land, Sardinia, Italy." In Landscapes and Societies: Selected Cases, Eds. Martini, I. P. and W. Chesworth. Springer Science+Business Media, New York: 2010.
  2. ^ Sergio Vacca, Angelo Aru, Paolo Baldaccini, Rapporti tra suoli e insediamenti nuragici nella regione del Marghine-Planargia (Sardegna centro-occidentale), in Il sistema uomo-ambiente tra passato e presente, a cura di Claude Albore Livadie e Franco Ortolani, Edipuglia, Bari, 1998, ISBN 88-7228-197-0
  3. ^ Oxford English Dictionary (online ed.), s.v. nuraghe.
  4. ^ M. Pittau, philologist
  5. ^ Recensione di Blasco Ferrer, Paleosardo
  6. ^ M. Wagner, La lingua sarda, Berna 1951
  7. ^ Giovanni Ugas, L'alba dei Nuraghi, Cagliari, Fabula, 2005, pag. 23. ISBN 88-89661-00-3
  8. ^ Museo Nazionale Archeologico di Nuoro, Il Sarcidano: Orroli, Nuraghe Arrubiu su
  9. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica, "Italy."
  10. ^ a b Zedda, M. & Belmonte, J. A., (2004), On the orientations of Sardinian nuraghes: some clues to their interpretation, Journal for the History of Astronomy (ISSN 0021-8286), Vol. 35 (2004), Part 1, No. 118, p.92
  11. ^ Massimo Pallottino, La Sardegna Nuragica (Edizioni del Gremio, 1950).


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