Today, I will tell you about an extraordinary place in Sardinia, from a naturalistic, environmental and historical point of view. It is S’Ortu Mannu and the Queen of the Mediterranean. S’Ortu Mannu is a natural oasis-museum made up of 700 centuries-old olive trees, which stands at the foot of a medieval castle in the Iglesiente area, in South-western Sardinia.
History tells us that these centuries-old olive trees can most likely be considered to date back to Roman times. In fact, artefacts dating back to that era have surfaced on the ground, such as a mosaic floor belonging to a country villa. However, some scholars have hypothesized that the trees are of Phoenician origin, based on the discovery of an oil mill dating back to the Punic period.
The park is a place to discover the magnificence of nature and also a venue for cultural and food, and wine events throughout the year. In summer, there are theatrical performances and concerts. At the same time, at the end of October, the great event of the olive festival is an opportunity to savour the fine olive oil production of Villamassargia, one of the gastronomic excellences of Sardinia.
After a period of neglect, the original trees underwent a grafting operation between the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries by the Benedictine monks. Today, visiting this splendid olive grove, one finds oneself in front of a marvellous spectacle of nature: the majestic gnarled trunks twist, protected by a thick and vaporous green foliage. S'Ortu Mannu in Sardinian dialect means "the large vegetable garden". It is, in fact, a naturalistic oasis of 13 hectares (originally it was 500 hectares), at the foot of Mount Exi, on the top of which the ruins of the Castle of Gioiosa Guardia stand, about 3 kilometres from the town of Villamassargia.
Actually, S’Ortu Mannu is owned by the Municipality of Villamassargia, but each olive tree has been entrusted to its original owner for the care. To date, almost every family in Villamassargia has a tree in the oasis, and this testifies to the strong bond between the population and the territory, handed down from generation to generation.
The olive grove is of great historical and cultural interest as it testifies to the traditional agricultural landscape of these areas of Sardinia, characterized precisely by olive cultivation. Currently, S’Ortu Mannu is a still productive olive grove, whose olives are harvested in autumn and destined for the production of extra virgin olive oil.
In the centre of the park, inside a circular fence, stands the patriarch, the queen of the olive grove ("Sa Reina" in Sardinian dialect). It is a natural monument of about 900 years and of impressive dimensions, perhaps the largest olive tree in the Mediterranean.
Sa Reina has a trunk of 16 meters in circumference, and its bark is a masterpiece created by Mother Nature, a work of art made of knots and intertwining. Standing next to this natural monument, you feel the flow of life flowing between the roots and the trunk. Embracing the trunk, you feel the energy and power of life flow. Walking along this entire forest of olive trees, you have the opportunity to admire the sculptural ability of nature in an area that has seen millenary events unfold.
The territory of Villamassargia reached its maximum splendour in the Middle Ages when it became the capital of the "Giudicato of Calari". The Castle of Gioiosa Guardia dates back to this period, the ruins of which rise on a hill overlooking S'Ortu Mannu. Built between the 12th and 13th centuries by the will of the Della Gherardesca family, it then passed into the possession of the Republic of Pisa and was subsequently incorporated by the Aragonese family.
The village of Villamassargia played an active role during the golden age of mineral deposits in Sardinia. An example of industrial archaeology is the Orbai mine, already exploited in Roman times, where lead and zinc were extracted.
In 1893, the mine ownership was passed to the British "The United Mines Ltd.", which improved equipment and processing procedures. There were other ownership changes until the 1950s, when the mine was definitively closed, and the concession was revoked. In the village, there are the main buildings of the mine, the houses and the old infrastructure of the miners, partly renovated in the past years.
After visiting these centenary olive trees that rise majestically in a timeless place, in S’Ortu Mannu and the Queen of the Mediterranean, you can take advantage of a refreshment break in the farmhouses and restaurants nearby. You will have experienced a day where you can carve out moments of relaxation out of the chaos of the world. Sa Reina awaits you!
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