The island’s northern gateway, a Catalan stronghold on Italian soil, a maze of cobbled alleyways with narrow turns overlooking majestic coral-red sunsets, which here is art and tradition: in a word, Alghero.
Embraced by the massive bastions of the port and dotted with red roofs, Alghero’s origins date back to the 12th century, when the Dorias, a wealthy Genoese merchant family, made it one of the most important commercial ports in the Mediterranean, building walls capable of defending merchant ships from Saracen and Pisan attacks.
The Dorias, according to official documents, also gave Alghero its name: the shoals of seaweed that were deposited on the shore during south-westerly and mistral swells inspired the name L’Algarium.
The city remained in the hands of the Doria descendants until 1353, when the Catalan-Aragonese, with the support of the Venetians, defeated the Genoese fleet commanded by Admiral Grimaldi in a bloody naval battle off Porto Conte. In 1354, at the behest of Peter IV of Aragon, Alghero was annexed to the Crown of Aragon and remained under Catalan-Aragonese and then Spanish domination for four centuries.
Even today, the Catalan imprint is dominant, both in the architecture of churches and palaces and in the city’s typical dialect.
Alghero’s coastline, over ninety kilometres long, is known as the Coral Riviera: these waters are home to a rich colony of the finest quality coral, from which wonderful jewels are made that shine in the city’s many jewellers, a distinctive sign of a craftsmanship that has maintained the traditional mastery in the working of this red gold over time.
Today Alghero is a dynamic city, a tourist destination for young people attracted by the summer nightlife, lovers of the crystal-clear sea and the shiny sand of Le Bombarde, the city beach, without forgetting diving enthusiasts who can immerse themselves in a seabed rich in life and colours in the protected marine reserve of Capo Caccia.
The most evocative legend of North Sardinia is linked to Capo Caccia: the spectacular promontory, visible from the town’s seafront, is said to be a giant lying on the water, condemned by the Sun in that form as punishment for having dared to love his sister Luna. The latter, who returned the love of the boy mocked by the young women of her village because of his size, begged the Water to give him beauty. Thus, in the heart of the promontory, stalactites, stalagmites and glittering alabaster walls were born, an enchanted underground world that is now a destination for tourists and enthusiasts: the Grotte di Nettuno (Neptune’s Caves).