The nuraghe (IPA [nu'rage]) (plural Italian nuraghi, Sardinian nuraghes) is the main type of ancient megalithic edifice found in Sardinia, Italy. Today it has come to be the symbol of Sardinia and its distinctive culture, the Nuragic civilization. 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 ... is now generally rejected."
The typical nuraghe is situated in a panoramic spot and has the shape of a truncated conical tower resembling a beehive. The structure has no foundations and stands only by virtue of the weight of its stones, which may weigh as much as several tons. Some nuraghes are more than 20 metres in height.
Today, there are more than 8,000 nuraghes still extant in Sardinia, although it has been estimated that they once numbered more than 30,000. Nuraghes are most prevalent in the northwest and south-central parts of the island.
There is a similar type of structure which has a corridor or a system of corridors. Some authors consider it inappropriate to call this type of structure a nuraghe and prefer the term "nuragic village".
The nuraghes were built between the middle of the Bronze Age (18th-15th centuries BC) and the Late Bronze Age. Many were in continuous use from their erection until Rome entered Sardinia in the (2nd century BC), and perhaps later originated some of the current villages.
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 civilization in the western Mediterranean during this epoch, including those in the regions of Magna Graecia. Of the 8,000 extant nuraghes, only a few have been scientifically excavated.
The use of the nuraghes has not been determined: they could have been religious temples, ordinary dwellings, rulers' residences, military strongholds, meeting halls, or a combination of the former. Some of the nuraghes are, however, located in strategic locations - such as hills - from which important passages could be easily controlled.
Nuraghes could 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 was a town. Recent 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.
The most important complex is Su Nuraxi di Barumini, which was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list. The highest and most imposing one is instead the Nuraghe Sant' Antine near the village of Torralba. Other famous nuraghes are near Alghero, Macomer, Abbasanta (see Losa), Orroli, Villanovaforru.
Full article ▸