Sardinian Landscape and Lighthouses

Alessio Satta, Mediterranean Sea and Coast Foundation, MEDSEA, Cagliari

Maria Pina Usai,Mediterranean Sea and Coast Foundation, MEDSEA, Cagliari

Manuela Puddu, Mediterranean Sea and Coast Foundation, MEDSEA, Cagliari

From coastal towers to lighthouses, from isolated promontories to highly urbanized areas, the Sardinian coasts are characterized by the presence of numerous buildings constructed over the centuries with defence, signalling and communication functions (Bartolomei et al., 2007).Historically, the role of lighthouses and, more generally, of maritime signalling, strictly followed the development of commercial and military fleets. In Sardinia, lighthouses were mainly constructed under the Piedmont-Sardinia Kingdom, during the XIX century, when the increase of maritime com-merce between Corsica and the various ports of the Tyrrhenian Sea, requested the presence of a considerable number of navigation signalling systems (Calanca, 2006).Since 1910, the Italian lighthouses and semaphores are managed directly by the Italian Navy. In recent years, interventions have focused on automation technologies and therefore, the number of operative lighthouses remarkably decreased. The old structures of maritime signalling, which have been forbid-den to public use, can now be recovered and valued. Based on typological and architectural elements, these buildings can be classified as follows:

  • lighthouses, maritime signalling facilities through light signals;
  • semaphores, buildings dedicated to maritime signalling usually through flags and radio-electric equipment;
  • signalling stations, sighting structures to support military batteries.

One of the first lighthouses built in Sardinia was the one of Razzoli in 1843, followed in 1886 by the signalling stations of Puntiglione and Testiccioli in the island of La Maddalena and the one of Capo Sperone in Sant’Antioco, the semaphores of Punta Scorno in the Asinara Island (1890) and Capo Figari in the municipality of Golfo Aranci (1890). Amon these, the Torregrande lighthouse (Oristano) and the signalling Station of Capo Sant’Elia in Cagliari, are very peculiar because they both were built above a pre-existing coastal tower, part of the Spanish coastal defence system (1542–1638) (Marina Mili-tare, 2012).

Lighthouses are usually composed by a lantern collocated on a tower or a trellis structure and are found in the sea, at the end of a promontory or on isolated rocks, but always in a strategic position along the coast, easily visible from the sea even in daylight. The shape of these buildings is designed to offer an increased resistance to sea erosion.The construction materials are usually local, typical of the period from 16th to the 19th century when most of the lighthouses were built. Usually, the masonry, of remarkable thickness, is made of mixed stones held together by lime mortar. The bearing structure of the isolated towers is made of concrete, while the staircase is made with steel or local stones.The three typologies of Sardinian lighthouses were:

  • Block lighthouses, characterized by a tower (low, medium or high), containing the lantern, at-tached to a one or two-floor building from which is possible to access to the entire complex; the tower can be in a central position or along a side of the building.
  • Tower lighthouses consist of a simple tower that contains the lantern. This type is usually located on the sea or on isolated rocks.
  • Lighthouses on fortresses, in which the lantern is located over a monumental complex in most cases a defensive construction such as coastal towers or militaries fortresses.

Semaphores are signalling stations located in strategic positions, visible from the sea and equipped with appropriate communication devices. They were meant to provide sea surveillance, ship sight-ing and recognition, ship-to-shore communications as well as meteorological data. The semaphores are usually big buildings, of one or two floors, with rooms for the personnel and the families of the per-son in charge, plus kitchen and bathroom. The main building has a longitudinal plan, covered by a wooden truss, while the sighting tower has a flat roof with a terrace.

The interior is longitudinally divided into two symmetrical parts by a corridor, which usually ends in a wider circular space, which contains the signalling office. Near the semaphores, there is a small building that used to host the personnel’s families or military lodgings.Finally, the signalling stations are small structures located near to a pre-existing anti-ship or anti-air-craft emplacement, often limited to a masonry box or a sheet metal prefabricated one. Usually, they consist in a small circular area (about 2 meters of diameter) for sighting and a small building for personnel’s dormitories, Head office, kitchen and bath-room (Bartolomei et al., 2007).


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