Asinara: the unique features of an island.
Asinara Island National Park
Asinara Island, separated from Porto Torres – on the mainland – by a short tract of sea, is a typically Mediterranean wild land. Although being scarcely populated, it is an increasingly more demanded destination of tours, thanks to the presence of enchanting bays and beaches, and of low mountains with a charm of their own. This is, in fact, a mainly montainous area, its coastline stretching more than 68 miles (110 km). There is hardly any vegetation.
Among the most beautiful bays which have always attracted tourists from all over the world we can mention:
- Cala d’Arena, reputed to be the most beautiful beach in the island, is one of the essential destinations of every tourist because of its everlasting allure. Among its peculiarities, an Aragonese tower dating back to the XVII century;
- Cala Sant’Andrea, where a pearl-white beach entwines an immaculate sea, is accessible to the tourists only when accompanied by a Park guide due to its environmental importance;
- Cala Sabina is no less than the others: a shimmering sea that only waits for the tourists, to give them unforgettable emotions. This is one of the few bathing beaches;
- Cala Trabuccato, its rich undersea life and the low hills covered in the Mediterranean scrub are the main peculiarities of this one of a kind bay. Even if bathing is forbidden, you can reach the place by boat;
- Cala Reale, the perfect starting point to explore the island for hikers and average tourists;
- Cala d’Oliva, its small port hosts the docking points for boats departing from Stintino and Porto Torres.
Once a jail, it became National Park in 1997, eventually granting free access to the area to everybody.
Asinara prison was one of the most important penitentiaries in Italy. Compared to the most infamous Alcatraz, it held the main and cruellest criminals of recent Italian history.
Fornelli was the first structure built, followed by many others designated to agricultural penal colonies.
After having held the Red Brigades, it became a symbol of the fight against organised crime. Judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, who spent a brief period on the island for security reasons, condamned lots of criminals to hard prison. Among them we can mention Totò Riina, Leoluca Bagarella, Giuseppe Brusca, Antonino Buccellato, Tommaso Scaduto, Gaetano Badalamenti, Giacomo Coppola, Rosario Terrasi, and more. The Camorra crime lord Raffaele Cutolo is worth a mention: his nickname was “O’professore” (The Professor) because he was the only one among the inmates able to read and write. On the island he married Immacolata Jacone, and the ceremony was held in Cala d’Oliva.
The prison-island witnessed only a runaway: Sardinian bandit Matteo Boe who, thanks to the help of Salvatore Derudas, managed to cross the sea onboard a motorized inflatable boat.
The typical Mediterranean vegetation is composed by low shrubs and trees with high crown coverage. Unfortunately, due to an intensive exploitation of natural vegetal resources, the environmental appearence has undergone severe modification.
Along the coastlines we can find the wild fennel, a typical kind of lemon, and the lotus cytisoides (family of fabaceae). There is scarcely any wood but the Mediterranean scrub is thriving, with the phoenicean junipers, mastic, common bracken, and dioscorea communis (yam family).
Concerning the fauna, there are currently more than eighty animal species divided in amphibious, reptiles, birds, and mammals. Lots of these are rare and endangered, and they play a fundamental role within the Mediterranean ecosystem. In the past, the presence of human population threatened the survival of some of these species, leading to the disappearance of Mouflon, Mediterranean monk seals, ospreys and Sardinian deers.
Among the most widespread species we can mention the Italian three-toed skink, a tiny grey and olive-green lizard with black stripes, the Sardinian hare, whose typical long ears are characterised by a black tip, the Sardinian barn owl, with its blackest eyes, and the bizarre scaled reptile.
The fundamental role is played by the white donkey, which has become the real symbol of the Park together with the sea turtle. We are not able to date back its presence on the isle, but one theory on its origin states that the donkey was originally bred by men, but later left in the wild. The typical white colour could be caused by a type of albinism, which would provoke a shambling gait too.
The sea turtle is widely spread within the Asinara waters. A safeguarded endagered species, it has often been rescued, healed, and set free in its own ecosystem by a qualified team. The Sea Turtle Recovery Centre and the CRAMA (Asinara sea animals recovery centre) located in Cala Reale, carry out an important awareness raising project, addressed both to public and private sphere, through meetings and guided tours.
History and legends
Human settlement, which dates back to Neolithic, is among the oldest in Sardinia. The recovery of Domus de Janas (House of the Fairies) in the northern side of the island is a proof of this mysterious past.
Human presence has never ceased throughout the centuries: we know that Romans left important tracks of their settlement, thanks to the recovery of trade ships and artifacts. Following the fall of the Roman Empire, Vandals, Byzantines, and Arabs came to the island.
The advent of Giudicati and Maritime Republics granted a central role to the island in the Mediterranean. Thanks to a wealthy Ligurian family – probably called Malaspina – a majestic castle was built on Fornelli range, to monitor the traffic of vessels in the strait.
Legend has it that privateer Hayreddin Barbarossa spent some time in the castle. Lots of conflicts followed the arrival of the Aragonese in the first years of XV century, aiming to the conquering of the territory. The Crown of Aragon was well equipped militarily, and won the battle against Genoa. During the same century Arab raids intensified, motivating the building of three sighting towers.
Aragonese will dominate the island for three centuries, until the XVIII century when the House of Savoy annexed it to the Crown of Sardinia. Colonisation of the territory was an endeavour, and the Savoy eventually went through it thanks to the help of Marquis of Mores and Montemaggiore – Antonio Manca Amat – who improved the agricultural and fishing production too.
After the end of Feudalism in the XIX century, the island was designated as agricultural colony and lazaretto. Inhabitants strongly resisted and fought, but they were eventually defeated and exiled to Porto Torres, Sassari, and above all Stintino, where forty-five families settled, ancestors of the current residents of the village.
The island became a penitentiary as soon as Austro-Hungarian prisoners were transferred during World War I. It was only in 1997 that the Asinara National Park was finally established, allowing visitors to enjoy its historical, geographical, and natural wonders.