Ardia Horse Race in Sedilo, Sardinia’s Most Reckless Festival

The Ardia horse race in Sedilo is a reckless race that takes place every year on the 6th and 7th of July on the occasion of the Saint Constantine festival and never fails to attract thousands of visitors from Sardinia, Italy, and Europe.

Sedilo, a quiet village of some 2000 people in Oristano province in central Sardinia, holds every year one of the island’s most reckless festivals. While I’m not originally from Sedilo, my mother is, and so are both the paternal and maternal sides of her family. This is why I could always sense their ardent devotion to this festival throughout my childhood.

One of the most important and for sure the most awaited events that compose the festival organized every year in honor of the emperor Constantine, this guide will give you all the information you need to enjoy the Ardia horse race, one of the coolest things to do in Sardinia in summer.

Image: Ardia horse race in Sedilo, Sardinia.

History of the Ardia horse race in Sedilo

Thousands of spectators every year stare in awe at the Ardia horse race in the lovely Sardinian town of Sedilo until the end, careless of the sun-drenched, dusty, hot, crowded sanctuary. It’s a wild, dangerous, and suggestive race that sees some of the best riders of the island riding horses that don’t even seem fully tamed. Accidents are copious every year, more than one rider died during the run, and probably this overdose of adrenaline is what makes it a truly undying tradition and an unmissable annual date.

The main interpretation of the Ardia horse race in Sedilo is the commemoration of the battle in Ponte Milvio, one of Rome’s historic bridges, that saw Emperor Constantine the Great defeat Maxentius between the 27th and the 28th of October 312 AD. The first three horse riders are the Emperor and his generals and the following three are their guards carrying a wooden stick to chase the rest of the riders who embody the enemies away (and they do beat them heavily!).

However, the festival is so ancient that its origins are lost in the mists of time. Very likely it was born as a pagan ritual later incorporated into the Catholic religion like most of Sardinia’s festivals.

Image: Horse race of S'Ardia in July in Sedilo, Sardinia.

Celebrations for S’Ardia in Sedilo

The undisputed stars of the show are the first three horsemen. The leader is known as Prima Pandela (The First Flag) and embodies St. Constantine with the burden of carrying his golden flag to the sanctuary. Once he’s nominated by Sedilo’s parish, he has the task to appoint his “generals” the second and the third flag (Segunda Pandela and Terza Pandela).

The three Pandelas together designate their three “escorts”, who hold batons and fiercely guard them from the rest of the swarm symbolizing the enemies trying to overcome the Emperor. There are no winners or losers, but testing the edge of legal security measures works as a reputation booster.

Image: Parade for St. Constantine festival in Sedilo, Sardinia.

Gathered at the leader’s house, the horse riders make their way to Piazza di Chiesa (Church Square), where the parish gives them his blessing and officially kicks off S’Ardia. Ushered in by rows of riflemen and a local folklore band, the riders, dressed in their candid white blouse and typical Sardinian black trousers, proudly parade through Sedilo towards the sun-soaked, desolated land that only this time of the year teems with pilgrims.

The sanctuary rests on a tiny hill overlooking the beautiful Lake Omodeo. The small church is busy with pilgrims all year long, and this is largely visible inside where the walls are clothed with pictures and vows from faithful pilgrims asking the saint to heal, help and give assistance in any way.

Image: Three pandelas racing in Sedilo for the Ardia festival in Sardinia.

How to enjoy S’Ardia and Saint Constantine festival in Sedilo

First of all, the Ardia horse race in Sedilo is only one of the events of the St. Constantine festival. For three days, from the 5th to the 7th of July, there are several religious functions both in the village and in the sanctuary and countless preparations. All this is mainly the prerogative of the locals and very intimate celebrations, while the Ardia is a wider event where everybody is welcome and where the main Sardinian TV channels are always present with their cameras placed in the best viewpoints.

There are two ways you can choose to see the horse race. It takes place around 7 pm, so you can either get to the sanctuary earlier in the afternoon and wait there for the horses, or you can start from the church and parade along with the riders. Both options have pros and cons. The first solution will certainly give you the chance to pick a better spot when the crowd is not fully there yet, so the visual of the whole race will be more complete.

Image: Rifleman at Saint Constantine festival in Sedilo, Sardinia

But you will also have to spend hours under the sun, which, beginning of July in Sardinia, is pretty ruthless. Around the sanctuary, especially where you can have better views, there is no shade, so you will definitely need to wear a hat or create your shade in some way. And carry some fresh water since you will sweat a lot. There are several stalls and refreshing points, but again, if you move from your spot, you are unlikely to find it again. Plus, routes there are all uphill/downhill, not so pleasant to walk in the heat.

The other solution, to join the parade following the horses, will make you closer to the locals, get to know better the tradition and actively participate from the beginning. However, once you arrive at the sanctuary, you will have to find a place pretty quickly, and obviously, the most panoramic viewpoints will be taken. Plus, you will hear the organizers shout out loud to invite onlookers to find their spot and stick to it without changing position so that the fast and furious descent of the horses can begin.

Both experiences are enriching and fascinating, so it’s really up to you and how you would like to enjoy this traditional festival. Besides, if you really like it, you can always go back and see it from another perspective.

Image: Horse race for Sedilo's Ardia.

Where to stay in Sedilo

For this occasion, Sedilo, from a sleepy village in central Sardinia, becomes a lively loud town. Street stalls lined up all along the main road and selling everything from local sweets to kids’ toys make it a perfect gift shopping destination, while the evening concerts make the nights sleepless and exciting.

This is why, if you wish to enjoy the festival for all its duration or at least on the main day until late at night, you will probably want to sleep in Sedilo. Some of the accommodations you can choose from, and book much in advance, are B&B Catedda, B&B Lichitu, or Domuspes if you prefer to rent an apartment.

If you can’t find a room in Sedilo, you can look for accommodation in Ghilarza, a nice town some 13 km from Sedilo that has way more shops, services and also a few attractions to see. Among the accommodation options in Ghilarza are La Vallata B&B, B&B Perdalonga, and B&B S’Arenada, while in adjacent Abbasanta village, you can book affordable places such as Regia Hotel.

Where to eat in Sedilo

Food-wise, during the festival all around the sanctuary, you will find food stalls selling grilled fish and sausages as well as those selling sandwiches stuffed with grilled sausages. Slightly outside of the village but still in Sedilo’s territory is a very nice restaurant, Da Armando (località Talasai, link to Google Maps), with a nice view of the lake and where you can choose fish, meat and, only for dinner, pizza.

If you are staying in Ghilarza, you will find quite a few eating options, such as Al Marchi restaurant (Via della Concezione) in the old town, Trattoria Pizzeria Buon Gusto (Via Cristoforo Colombo 34) facing the hospital, Valparaiso (Via Gennargentu), Ristorante e bar La Torre (Via Giacomo Matteotti 93), and the exclusive Sas Mendulas (Via Canonico Licheri 57).

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