Piazza Palazzo, 4/a, 09124 Cagliari CA
The Cathedral of Santa Maria was built in 13th century in Roman style by the Pisans. It became a cathedral after conquering and the subsequent abandonment of the previous seat of the Bishops palace Santa Igea, capital of the Guidicato di Cagliari. The only original part still visible of bell tower, the decorative architrave on top of the central gate and the transept arms of the lateral gates that belong though to the 14th century. The remains of the building is fruit of various restoration works that have gone on trough time. The restoration that went on between the 1699 and 1709 by Arch. Pietro Fossati entirely rebuilt the façade in baroque style, in accordance with that era’s taste. Another restoration in the beginning of 1900 tore the baroque façade down hoping to find the original Roman façade that was thought to be found underneath. Not having found the original Pisan façade, the church remained for many years without and only in 1933 was completely rebuild by taking example from Santa Maria dei Miracoli in Pisa.
On the lower part three architrave gates of which the central one is the largest. Suspended arches and decorations articulate the space. The entrance gates are framed by Roman arches and are surmounted by fan lights by mosaic representations of Sant Saturn, Patron – saint of Cagliari to the left, Saint Cecilia – co-patron of the church on the right, higher up the pattern is articulated by four balconies formed by small Roman arches and columns. The original bell tower resembles the defensive towers of the quarter and dashes up on the left side of the façade. It too decorated by suspended archers. In the 14th century the transept was added, only the two lateral gates were left. This shows the passing from Roman to Gothic style. The northern facing gates still holds it Roman style, the other is Gothic. They are both very beautiful and are decorated with carvings in white stone. It is possible to visit the inside of the Cathedral.
The church plan has a cruciform shape cross shaped – it is divided in three naves with lateral chapels, transept, and raid presbytery. The chapels are dedicated to different saints and are more or less in baroque style. The oldest chapels are found at the sides of the altar and differentiate themselves from the others by the simplicity of the white stone from which it was made. The moderate neo-gothic star and the characteristic double lensed window that lights up the area. The two chapels where hidden by restoration work that went on during 1664 and 1674 and were brought back to life during more restoration in the 1900. The chapel on the right side of the altar with your back to the entrance is in gothic Aragonese style and hosted one of the thorns of Jesus’s crown donated by Pope Clement the VII. Today it is decorated by a beautiful silver art from the 1500 like a candelabra and a tabernacle in form of a temple. Here the archbishop Ernesto Maria Piovella is buried.
The chapel on the left of the altar is dedicated to Sacro Cuore and is of Pisan era. Next to it you can admire the mausoleum of Martina il Giovane, Aragonese conquistador or Sardinia. The monument is made from intarsia marble that characterizes the whole church in red, white and black. The altar is found on elevated crodangulum prebystery with a crypt underneath. At the feet of the prebystery one can notice four lines clinching different pray in their mouths: a bear, a human, a dragon and a ball. They were initially part of what is considered to be the feather in the cap of the cathedral, in other words the pulpit of Maestro Guglielmo. Today the pulpit is divided into two parts and is found on the sides of the entrance gate. It was built for the dome of Pisa in 1160 and then given to Cagliari in 1312 when the Aragonesi were already at the gates. This gift, a masterpiece of medieval art wanted to strengthen the ties with Pisa and the Castle of Cagliari and therefore expresses the importance that this city had for the Tuscany city as a strategic point of commerce. It is entirely decorated with the scenes taken from the Bible, but the characters are wearing medieval clothing. The representative scenes appear very aggressive due to the technique of sculpting in protruding and perforating of the eyes of the characters. At the opposite side of the presbytery two doors allow you to enter the crypt. It was built by the Monsignor d’Esquivel in 1680 to contain the remains of the martyrs found in the necropolis of San Lucifero and San Saturnino in Cagliari. At the time a singular competition went on between various cities. It consisted of number of martyrs found in its territory.
Going down to first flight of stairs you can see the burial site of Mons. d’Esquivel. The crypt is formed by a central larger area and two smaller lateral ones. The central area has a vaulted dome and is decorated by rosette and diamond motifs. The lateral walls are completely occupied by tile statues and represent the martyrs buried in the crypt. Each martyr holds a palm leaf, symbol of the martyrdom. The central vault was consecrated by the Mons. D’Esquivel for the inauguration of the crypt. The later area on the right is dedicated to San Lucifero, bishop of Cagliari, he was exiled in Syria and subsequently to Palestine and Egypt during the battles against the Arian heresy. The bishop is represented by a statue positioned on top of the altar, in front of it is the funeral monument in classical style dedicated to Maria Lugia of Savoy who died in 1810 and is buried here. The other lateral area of the crypt of the left side of the altar is smaller and is dedicated to San Saturno – patron-saint of Cagliari. He too is figured by a statue on the altar. In front of the statue is another funeral monument destined to hold the remains of Carlo Emanuele of Savoy who died at the early age of three due to smallpox. Behind a monument a Roman sarcophagus has been walled in with central medallion originated from the necropolis of San Saturno. Another sarcophagus of same time but smaller has been positioned on top of the entryway. Lower down into the crypt are more rooms of other three other floors that are not accessible and were used as a prison during inquisition and later as a library.
You may now exit the Cathedral and go to the square outside. Don’t forget to look closely at the pulpit of Maestro Guglielmo on your way out
(from Cagliari Audio guide)