From Oristano take the road for Torre Grande and carry on towards S. Giovanni di Sinis. Once you arrive at S. Giovanni church, carry on following indications for the archaeological site, whose entrance is 1 km away. The cost of the ticket is 4 Euro and includes admission to the Archaeological Museum of Cabras.
Set against the fascinating backdrop of the Sinis peninsula, inhabited since the fourth millennium BC, stands the Phoenician city of Tharros founded at the beginning of the 8th century BC.
This area, of great beauty for its many sandy beaches known as “del riso”since they consist of small white marble grains the size of rice, is also particularly interesting because of the presence of a promontory chosen by the Phoenicians as a harbour, since ships could moor on either side of the promontory according to the prevailing winds.
Of this period, we find but few examples of funeral rites, with incineration tombs which were already known in the 19th century. The most ancient findings come from the Tophet, a typical Phoenician-Punic sanctuary open to the sky, already in use in the 7th century BC, containing jars with the ashes of sacrificed children and animals.
In the second half of the 6th century, due to the expansionist policy followed by Carthage, Tharros too became a victim of conquest on the part of this African city. From this time on, there was a spate of construction of monuments in the city, with a number of public buildings, including a temple with Doric half-columns and the imposing fortified walls which protected the city from possible attacks from the land. The tophet which was thus included in the fortified area, continued its activity. In the area immediately to the west, at the end of the 5th century BC, an important artisan quarter came into being, specialising in iron working.
Dating from Punic times are the chamber tombs cut into the rocky spur of Capo San Marco and, further north, near today’s village of San Giovanni di Sinis. They consist of an access chamber and a very simple burial chamber which hosted the corpses, often accompanied by a rich array of funeral goods. Indeed, these tombs have produced many of the numerous findings exhibited in important Sardinian, Italian and foreign museums.
It is from the Roman conquest of Sardinia (238 BC) that we see the beginning of that process of profound change which was to culminate only in Imperial times.
Historians have dated in the Republican era (2nd century BC) the refurbishment of the fortifications of Muru Mannu, with the addition of great basalt blocks and the construction of a counterscarp wall, marking off a wide deep moat.
It was however in Imperial times that the city underwent the greatest changes.
Significant urban refurbishment works were undertaken and some time in the 2nd century AD the roads were paved in basalt blocks, and equipped with a complex sewer system for grey waters. Many monumental public buildings were constructed, including the three bath complexes and a structure defined by its discoverer as a “castellum aquae” for its possible connection to the aqueduct. In Early Christian and early Medieval times, the main Roman buildings, in particular the baths were refurbished with construction, among other things, of a Early Christian baptistery where visitors can still today admire the baptismal font for complete immersion.
After several centuries of decline, the city of Tharros was abandoned definitively some time round the year one thousand, because it was too exposed to Saracen raids.
THE EARLY CHRISTIAN CHURCH OF SAN GIOVANNI DI SINIS
Situated in the centre of the small village of the same name, this church is built in a cemetery area of pagan origin which only later became Christian. It is built in white sandstone blocks and has a simple layout which only goes to increase its appeal: its ground plan, rectangular, is divided into three naves with barrel vaults ending in a similarly vaulted transept. Corresponding to the central nave and the only apse is a small dome supported on great pillars with cellular structure. The main nave is lit by three small quadrangular openings and in correspondence with the apse and transept by mullioned windows with two lights.
Its simple façade is adorned in its central portion by an oculus sited just over the entrance. The first nucleus of the church was probably built in the 5th century. Of special interest is the holy water stoup in stone, on the bottom of which is sculpted a fish, one of the most ancient Christian symbols.
THE HYPOGEUM TEMPLE OF SAN SALVATORE
This temple, of great historical and cultural value is reached from the church of San Salvatore, dating from the 18th century, by means of a narrow flight of stairs. This leads to a narrow hallway with two rectangular chambers at the sides, with barrel vaulted roof. Proceeding down the corridor, we come to a rotunda with dome with a central aeration aperture. In the floor is set a well whose waters were thought to possess healing properties and constitute the starting point of the cult. From the rotunda, access is possible to a further three chambers, one semi-circular (where there is an altar) and two rectangular side chambers. In the centre of the floor opens a circular well with a Nuraghic betyl. On the walls of almost all the chambers are to be seen a number of images, signs of writing, true scenes depicting various subjects, ships, two lions, several figures of women – all of which provide hints as to the various cultures which followed one upon the other here.
Without doubt of pagan origin, this hypogeum was perhaps used as a catacomb, prison and refuge in early Christian times. In the 4th century AD, the temple was utilised for Christian religious ceremonies and it is very likely that the well in the central nucleus was used for baptismal purposes.