Sardinians constitute the majority of in-habitants of Sardinia, the second-largest island of the Mediterranean Sea, with a surface area of 9,301 square miles (24,090 square kilometers). The resident popula-tion is 1,665,617 (2008); the main urban centers are Cagliari, the regional capital, with 158,041 inhabitants, and Sassari, with 129,086. Population density is historically lower here than in the rest of Italy, with 68 inhabitants per square kilometer versus 189. It is difficult to establish the size of the Sardinian diaspora in the world. Ac-cording to regional government estimates,as many as 600,000 Sardinians may have emigrated from the end of the 19th century to the present (2009). The majority of these, approximately 350,000, moved to the Ital-ian peninsula, but there are also large com-munities of Sardinians in France, Germany, Switzerland, and Belgium.
In the rest of the world the biggest community is found in Ar-gentina, with smaller ones in North Amer-ica and Australia. As elsewhere in Italy, the main religion in Sardinia is Roman Catholi-cism. It is not easy to define the character-istics of Sardinians as an ethnic group, but certainly the common linguistic tradition (both Sardinian and Italian are spoken) and insularity are two crucial elements.According to genetic evidence and popu-lation models, Sardinia’s original popula-tion came from the Italian mainland and Greece, which in turn moved from the Middle East and Greece. The earliest set-tlements date from 6,000 to 2,800 BCE, in the Neolithic.
The Nuragic civilization prospered between the Neolithic age and Bronze Age, 1800 –238 BCE. Nuraghi are megalithic edifices in the shape of truncated conical towers, made with large stones and a false-cupola vault. Around these struc-tures, often very large and consisting of var-ious sections, were originally built villages, with dwellings in the form of stone huts. This civilization left a deep mark on the territory: there are currently approximately 7,000 nuraghi still visible, in various states of preservation. The nuraghe of Barumini, discovered by the Sardinian archaeologist Giovanni Lilliu, was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site list in 1997.
Sardinia was subsequently colonized by several civilizations, including the Phoeni-cians and Carthaginians (800 –238 BCE), Rome (238– 467 BCE), and the Vandals. Christianity came to the island in the 6th century with the Byzantines, who ruled until CE 1000. In response to repeated at-tacks from North Africa, the head of the Byzantine administration (the so-called “judge”) delegated power to four lieuten-ants. By the 9th century, the leaders in Ca-gliari, Arborea, Logudoro, and Gallura had become kings ( judikes in Sardinian). In these sovereign states, the king did not transfer power to heirs and the populace in-fluenced government through popular as-semblies. This phase ended with the Pisan dominion, and subsequently, Aragonese and Spanish rule (1326 –1718). In 1847 Sardinia was admitted to the peninsula and became part of the Italian state. The Italian Kingdom was proclaimed in 1861.
It is difficult to conceive of Sardinian culture as a homogenous whole, despite the region’s insularity and its unique history. It is, however, possible to highlight some distinctive themes in its popular culture. In the field of music, for example, this is the case with the launeddas , a woodwind in-strument consisting of three pipes, played in accompaniment to religious processions and dances. The canto a tenore is a type of polyphonic folk singing with four male voices; it was made part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site list in 2005. Sardin-ian popular religiosity and its rituality are characterized by several original elements interwoven with pre-Christian as well as more recent Spanish borrowings. The an-nual religious cycle of celebrations is still observed throughout the island and in-cludes Carnival, Holy Week, patron saint feasts in rural shrines, and sea processions in fishing communities’ feasts.
Sardinia’s population is bilingual: the national language, Italian, which is the lan-guage of institutional education and public administration, coexists with the Sardin-ian language (Sardo) in all its varieties. Thanks to the extensive work of the lin-guist Max Leopold Wagner, Sardo is con-sidered a Romance language like Italian, French, Spanish, and Portuguese. The Sar-dinian language originated in the third cen-tury BCE following the Roman conquest, and some of its variants still show original Latin elements. The variants are specifi-cally associated with location: the Logu-dorese variant is spoken in the north, the Barbaricino in the center, and the Campi-danese in the south. Within main language groups are numerous subgroups. The lan-guage itself carries layers of pre-Latin lin-guistic elements and layers of subsequent introductions laid by Roman rule and Ital-ian influence.
In addition to Sardo, other languages are spoken: Catalan is spoken in Alghero, and on the island of San Pi-etro, inhabited since 1738 by fishing com-munities that migrated from Liguria in Northern Italy, a dialect of Ligurian, called Tabarchino, is spoken; its name originates from Tabarka in Tunisia. In northern Sar-dinia two more sublanguages are found, whose roots are within the Corsican- Sardinian linguistic group: Sassarese in the town of Sassari and Gallurese in the Gallura area. Sardinian was recognized by a 1999 national law as one of Italy’s mi-nority languages. According to a 2006 de-cision by the regional assembly, regional, provincial, and local governments may issue their decisions in Sardinian as well as Italian, though the Italian text stands as the official document.
The second half of the 20th century saw radical transformations with the foundation of the Regione Autonoma della Sardegna (Autonomous Region of Sardinia; Sardinia was granted a special autonomous regional government within Italy) in 1948, the erad-ication of malaria with the support of the Rockfeller Foundation (1946 –1950), and the industrial development implemented by the large-scale, government-financed development (Piano di Rinascita [literally, Rebirth or Renaissance Plan]), particularly in the 1960s and 1970s. Malaria’s defeat created the basis for the development of tourism on the coasts. Emigration resulted in the depopulation of the interior, produc-ing a shift in the average population age. Furthermore, there was a general tendency to move from the interior areas toward the coast and the main cities, which offer ports, airports, public and commercial ad-ministration, higher education, and facto-ries. Like the rest of the country, Sardinia is nowadays a destination for Eastern Eu-ropean, Asian, and African immigrants. The larger immigrant communities are originally from Romania, Ukraine, China, the Philippines, Morocco, and Senegal.
Sardinians have always participated in and significantly contributed to Italian na-tional life. Sardinians are, in fact, some of the most important national political lead-ers: Francesco Cocco Ortu (1842–1929), liberal, minister of the Italian Kingdom; Antonio Gramsci (1891–1937), political philosopher and founder of the Communist Party; Emilio Lussu (1890 –1975), writer and politician, minister in the first Re-publican governments. Lussu cofounded the Sardinian Action Party (Partito Sardo d’Azione), prominent in the antifascist movement Justice and Liberty (Giustizia e Libertà) and in the Action Party (Par-tito d’Azione). More significant contribu-tors include Antonio Segni (1891–1972), of the Christian Democratic Party, fourth president of the Italian Republic; Enrico Berlinguer (1922–1984), national secre-tary of the Communist Party; and finally Francesco Cossiga (1928), of the Christian Democratic Party, eighth president of the Italian Republic.
Like other semiperipheral areas of Eu-rope, since the beginning of the modern age Sardinia has been characterized by specialized agricultural production (exten-sive grain growth) and seasonally mobile sheep farming. Agricultural and pasto-ral society in Sardinia typically has been based on the nuclear family, with bilateral kinship reckoning and neolocal postmarital residence. The domestic unit corresponds to the household farm as a productive and reproductive center, mostly a subsistence orientation. This type of economy also in-volves exchange; wheat and farming pro-duce always provided material for market transactions. Cheese, in particular, accord-ing to Fernand Braudel, has been exported in northern Europe since the 16th century.
As several historians (Maurice Le Lannou, Giulio Angioni, Giannetta Murru, Pier Gior-gio Solinas) have shown, agriculture and animal farming are not mutually exclusive activities but are rather complementary. This can be seen in specific microregional cases, such as in the mountainous areas of central Sardinia, where transhumance farming was once common. It can be ar-gued that nowadays all transhumance farming activities have ceased and shep-herds are mostly sedentary. State-financed,large-scale farms, using technology, spe-cialized machinery, and sophisticated ir-rigation, have replaced small, family-run farms.
This phenomenon increased in the early 1960s with the migration of shep-herds to Tuscany and Lazio and the cre-ation of state-financed farms. Agriculture and farming are still fundamental in the overall economy of Sardinia. Today as in the past, wheat, vegetables, fruit, olive oil, wine, cheese, bread, and sweets circulate in the market.
Artisanal production has always played a crucial role in the Sardinian economy. The French geographer Maurice Le Lan-nou singled out specific products and re-lated production areas in the first half of the 20th century. Nowadays there are original developments in various fields, including ceramics, tapestry, weavings, collectors’ knives, copper kitchen utensils, gold and coral jewelry, wooden and natural fiber objects, and cork and granite. Sardinia has also been a mining region, well known for centuries for its mining deposits of silver, lead, copper, and coal; its mines were ex-ploited until very recently. At present the mining structures are part of a geomining park. Overall, what was once essentially a rural area is currently a modern country with the same population distribution pat-terns as those found in the rest of Italy and other industrial countries. Eight percent of Sardinian residents work in the primary sector, 24 percent in the industrial sector, and 68 percent in the service industry.
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