Capital of the province of the same name, in addition to the many things to do in Oristano, this town located in the very heart of Sardinia has been proudly holding the beautiful record of being among the quietest and safest cities in Italy for years. And also among those where you eat best, also according to the national ranking, in case food is one of the reasons that made you buy your ticket to Italy.
Oristano is a city on a human scale, of small proportions, but equipped with all the services of a big city. It’s modern but likes to retain much of its past, from the monuments to its century-old traditions.
Definitely one of the places to visit in Sardinia if you want to explore the island and get to know the corners less known to mass tourism, and the perfect starting point for an itinerary in the province of Oristano. If you decide to arrive in Sardinia by ship, whether you disembark in Cagliari or Olbia, Oristano is easy to reach by train.
What to do in Oristano
Antiquarium Arborense, Oristano’s Archaeological Museum
The Antiquarium Arborense, the archaeological museum named after Giuseppe Pau, is housed in the Parpaglia palace, in Piazza Corrias and is certainly among the first places to visit in Oristano.
Renovated in 2016, it is important to visit the “Giuseppe Pau” museum to learn about the history of Oristano and its territory. The museum mainly preserves archaeological finds from Tharros (funerary trousseaux dating back to the 7th-3rd century BC, relics from the 2nd century BC to the 7th century AD and more) and several nuraghi.
Tharros and the nuraghi, Bronze-age stone towers that dot the whole island, are among the most important archaeological sites to visit in Sardinia.
If you have already visited Tharros or are planning to do so, I recommend taking some time to admire the beautiful scale model to understand what the city was like. In the same spot, there is also the scale model of Aristanis, the old Oristano of the Judicates period in medieval Sardinia.
The museum also preserves much more recent works. These include Spanish artifacts from the 15th and 16th centuries, as well as the notable altarpieces by local artists Pietro Cavaro of the Stampacina School and Antioco Mainas, one of the most important painters of the Catalan period in Sardinia.
The Antiquarium Arborense offers guided tours of the historic center, educational workshops, and other educational activities. The building is accessible to people with physical difficulties and is also the only one in Sardinia that allows blind or visually impaired people to enjoy the beauty of the works on display.
- Address: Piazza Corrias.
- Opening hours: Monday to Friday 9 am-8 pm, Saturday and Sunday 9 am-2 pm and 3-8 pm.
- Tickets: 5€.
The largest Cathedral in Sardinia, Oristano’s Duomo is dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta. It’s located in the historic center, making it easy to find if it is your first time in Oristano.
Initially, the architectural style of the Cathedral was Romanesque. Its construction, which began in 1131, was completed at the end of the 19th century, while its consecration took place in 1745.
Oristano’s Duomo is located in what was a Byzantine settlement (evidence of which is 8th-century tombs alongside other findings) and that later became an inhabited medieval neighborhood.
Restored in 1228 by the master foundryman Placentinus, as it was deduced from the signatures on the bronze shutters of the door. In 1348 the Gothic transept and the bell tower were added.
It was in 1729 that construction of the new cathedral began, built on the almost completely demolished 12th-century structure. This is when it picked up that Baroque style with polychrome marble that is still visible today.
The renovation of the chapel dedicated to Saint Joseph dates back to this period. It was used by the corporation of the carpenters, who could be buried there together with artists and woodworkers.
The relics of Saint Archelaus, martyred in Forum Trajan, today’s Fordongianus, one of the Sardinian towns to include in your bucket list, and the patron saint of Oristano, are kept in the chapel dedicated to him. The crypt of the main altar is also worth visiting.
- Address: Piazza Duomo, 1. Entrance and parking are accessible for disabled people.
- Opening hours: Every day 9 am-6.30 pm, on Friday from 11.20 am.
Tower of Mariano
This 13th-century tower, built in Romanesque architectural style, was the northern gateway to the city of Aristanis (Oristano). Today, it stands alone in Piazza Roma, the only surviving testimony of the city walls. It was first commissioned by Mariano II but erected by Pisan workers, who used sandstone blocks from Tharros for the construction.
The original building was modified upon the request of the Aragonese Crown. As of today, the Mariano Tower is the only remaining part of the defensive walls that once surrounded the city of Aristanis, the former capital of the Giudicato of Arborea.
Initially known as Port’e Ponti because it led to the bridge over the Tirso, it was later known as the Porta di San Cristoforo as it housed an altarpiece of the Saint, and also Porta Manna (large door). The inscription engraved above the arch places the date of construction with certainty in the year 1290.
This tower still has an important role during the celebration of Sa Sartiglia, the traditional carnival race of the city. It is, in fact, an obligatory and very spectacular passage for the knights of the equestrian joust.
Consisting of two square buildings on top of each other, the tower is 28 meters high overall. The first building, dominated by Guelph Merlons, has three levels. On the first and second levels, you can see some loopholes. The third level supports a small tower of about 10 meters with three Guelph merlons on each side, culminating in a fornix that has housed a bronze bell since 1430.
It is very suggestive to imagine, at dusk in the mists of time, the door being lowered from the arch to close the entrance to the city.
In the footsteps of Eleonora d’Arborea
Located in the historic center of Oristano, the square named after the legendary Eleonora d’Arborea is the city’s parlor, the view of which is dominated by some of the most significant local buildings.
In the center of the square is the monument dedicated to the medieval Judge who signed the expanded and updated version of the famous Carta De Logu. The statue, inaugurated in grand style on 22 May 1881, is the work of the Florentine sculptor Ulisse Cambi and his fellow citizen architect Mariano Falcini.
The bronze bas-reliefs depict the defeat of the Aragonese army in the castle of Sanluri and the promulgation of the Carta de Logu represented by the rolled parchment that Eleonora holds in her left hand. On all sides, the lions hold the coat of arms symbol of the Giudicato of Arborea and Oristano, an uprooted oak.
The famous house known in Sardinian as Domu de Eleonora located in Via Parpaglia Street, to be admired only from the outside, has been mistakenly considered her home. In fact, from the type of the building, it is very unlikely that it could have been the home of the judge who certainly stayed in the palace in Piazza de sa Maioria (now Piazza Mannu).
While recognizing that some parts of the palace are from the Judicial period, its structural appearance suggests that it was a stable rather than a home.
The different construction periods of the two floors of the building are also very evident. For example, the ornaments on the ground floor are much less sumptuous than those on the first floor, and the windows on the left side are framed with moldings that refer to the Catalan Gothic style.
The historical misleading may have been the uprooted tree, which was the coat of arms of the Giudicato of Arborea and today of the same province of Oristano, that is depicted on a window on the first floor.
You cannot leave Piazza Eleonora d’Arborea without visiting the Corrias-Carta palace. Located between Corso Umberto I and Piazza Eleonora d’Arborea, the building was commissioned by Giuseppe Corrias from Oristano as his mansion with all the requirements to meet his noble status.
The exact year when the works began is unknown, but there is a trace of it in a plan from 1859. It was almost completed in 1874 according to Giovanni Spano, who attributes the design to the famous architect Gaetano Cima from Cagliari. In addition to giving it the neoclassical imprint typical of his style, he makes it an example of excellence in the field of 19th-century civil architecture, conveying to it a very elegant and classy appearance.
The bright color of the facade is pleasantly innovative and, if possible, makes the square that hosts this splendid building made up of two units even more evocative.
But even more impressive are the furnishings inside dating back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the decorations and frescoes work of the very popular painters of the time, Giovanni Dancardi and Davide Dechiffer.
The Scolopi Palace
This neoclassical-looking building, originally consisting of the church and convent of San Vincenzo and located in the splendid Piazza Eleonora 44, is on the corner with Corso Umberto I.
According to the historian Angius, the palace was built on an ancient synagogue that the Jewish religious community had to abandon due to the beginning of Spanish rule. This hypothesis, however, is today discarded as the Jewish quarter, if it existed, was located in another area of the city.
The Palace, which owes its name to the fact that from the 17th century, it was under the care of the Piarist clerics, is a testimony to the events of the city over the course of five centuries.
Before becoming the seat of the municipality of Oristano again – it is known, in fact, that council meetings were held there from 1536 to 1540 – it became the seat of the convent of the Jesuit friars and, in 1682, the seat of a pious institute run by clerics of the Piarist order, institute which was abolished in 1886 to make room for the secular gymnasium under the rule of the Piedmont kingdom.
The renovation of the building began in 1830 at the hands of the Franciscan friar architect and sculptor Antonio Cano from Sassari. He worked on the façade, which he enriched with classical elements. He also intervened in today’s council chamber, then the former church of San Vincenzo, in which the nooks housing four statues of the evangelists can still be admired.
During the Fascist regime, the nooks were bricked over and the pitiful hands that protruded from the wall were cut off from the statues because unsuitable for the new purpose of the building, that is, hosting the city courtroom.
Another interesting decoration is the wrought-iron balcony that overlooks the courtroom, from where you reach the judicial room via a corridor with arches. In this room, everything speaks of the Giudicessa d’Arborea.
In fact, there are two paintings by Antonio Benini dedicated to her: the marriage of Donna Eleonora and the proclamation of the Carta de Logu. You can also admire the bronze crown donated by Venetian women in her honor in 1884.
Church of Saint Francis
This church, located in Oristano’s historic center near the Cathedral, features an adjoining convent and shows a clear neoclassical architectural style. The Franciscan friars, who settled in Oristano around 1253, founded this convent and church of San Francesco.
From the few finds that have come down to us, we know that in the 1200s it was Gothic in style. It was decided in the 19th century to rebuild the entire convent complex, and the first stone was laid in 1836. In 1838 the building collapsed.
In 1841 a new project was presented and gave life to the new neoclassical style church, a church which was opened for worship in 1847.
The front part features two pillars and four columns and overlooks the façade with three portals. The building is crowned by a hemispherical dome with an octagonal lantern.
Inside, we can see two chapels on each side of the main nave: one of the chapels houses the Christ of Nicodemus, a beautiful sculpture from the 14th-century Spanish school, which will be the model for the famous Crocifisso Ligneo (wooden Crucifix) of Ollolai and others that are preserved in different churches across Sardinia.
Other noteworthy treasures are kept in the sacristy: the marble statue which seems to represent Saint Basil the Great dating back to 1368 by the sculptor Nino Pisano and a panel (1533) which depicts Saint Francis suffering the stigmata. This panel was part of an altarpiece by the Cagliari native Pietro Cavaro, painter of the Stampacina School.
The convent of San Francesco, annexed to the church of the same name, is located in via Duomo 10 and has access for disabled people. The friars minor reside there.
The monastery witnessed important historical events during the Giudicato of Arborea. It was customary for the highest authorities of the time to meet in the friars’ refectory. Here, in 1388 the peace treaty was signed between Eleonora, judge of Arborea, and the Catalan-Aragonese king John I the Hunter.
In 1855, following the law of suppression of religious orders, a large part of the convent became the property of the State (it hosted the Military District). Consequently, the clerics were forced to settle in private homes while continuing to celebrate mass. They could carry on using the adjacent garden.
In 1875 the friars settled in the small infirmary of the convent, which they managed to redeem.
Museo Diocesano Arborense
The museum of the Duomo is located in the building of the Archibishop Seminary. Founded in 1712, the building underwent countless adjustments over the centuries carried out by various architects. It took on its almost definitive look of a large structure with a C-shaped plan in the 18th century.
It was with Archbishop Giovanni Maria Bua, at the beginning of the 19th century, that the construction was completed with the involvement of the architect Giuseppe Cominotti. A chapel is added to the structure which is being expanded and houses a large canvas depicting La Beata Vergine Immacolata (the Blessed Virgin Immaculate) by Cagliari-born painter Giovanni Marghinotti.
In the 20th century, a new chapel dedicated to San Luigi Gonzaga was added.
The Seminary hosts an essential and incredible artistic heritage made up of numerous collections: archaeological, scientific instruments, numismatics, and period weapons from the 17th to the 18th centuries. There are engravings, sculptures, sacred furnishings and vestments, liturgical silver, as well as teaching aids if you want to delve deeper into the local history.
The Seminary has an important cultural value as it houses a vast collection of rare volumes from all over the island.
In its archive, which contains an immense collection of cultural and historical documents, it is possible to carry out some sort of research, for example, on our ancestors. I found it very exciting to browse ancient registers where birth certificates, baptisms, marriages, and deaths when with my mom we were looking for her grandpa. Many of these were in Spanish or Latin because recorded prior to the unification of Italy.
- Address: Piazza Duomo 3.
- Opening hours: Thursday to Sunday 10 am-1 pm and 5-8 pm. On Wednesday only in the morning.
- Tickets: 5€.
Monastery of Santa Chiara
Among the places to visit in Oristano are also the church and monastery of Santa Chiara. Similarly to all places of worship, these rooms, too, have witnessed many events of the local history.
The 13th-century church, refounded by Judge Peter III upon the concession of Pope Clement VI and completed by Mariano IV, is one of the oldest religious institutions in Oristano. The monastery is perhaps the oldest in Sardinia devoted to Santa Chiara.
The church, built on the ruins of the one devoted to San Vincenzo, was completed in 1348 in conjunction with the death from the plague of Costanza del Vasto, Peter III’s pious wife, buried by her own will in one of its chapels.
The judges of Arborea cherished this church and monastery and never stopped bestowing gifts and money on these places of worship.
Some of the original structures of the presbytery still exist. For example, you can admire the insignia of the Judges of the Kingdom of Arborea next to those of Aragon. The apse recalls the transept of the Cathedral of Oristano. We know from the parchment found in recent times that the church of Santa Chiara was consecrated in 1428.
The church and monastery were restored in 1923 and, thanks to very recent modern techniques, a Madonna with Child and a Crucifix of the same type as the very famous Nicodemus Crucifix appear on a frescoed wall. In addition to various works of art, the monastery houses a rich archive of documents dating back to the 14th century.
- Address: Via Santa Chiara 29
- Opening hours: You can visit the monastery to pray at the time of the daily mass, 7.15 am on weekdays, 8.30 am on Sundays and holidays.
Oristano Art Gallery
If you are still looking for the best landmarks to visit in Oristano, take some time to visit its art gallery. Named after Carlo Contini, the most famous local artist of the last century, Oristano’s Pinacoteca is located in the medieval church of the ancient hospital Hospitalis Sancti Antoni from the time of the Judicates.
It constitutes one of the most significant cultural points of the city, thanks also to the Municipal Library and the Terracotta Ceramics center, which are also part of the structure.
Around fifty works of art were donated by Giovanni Battista Sanna Delogu from Ghilarza to establish an art gallery with the aim to celebrate the artists of his homeland. The art gallery organizes temporary exhibitions, with displays of Sardinian and international artists, and with a keen eye on the future and the new artists.
On the ground floor of the art gallery, it is worth visiting the recently established Terracotta Center. Through public and private documents, this insightful part of the museum tells the fascinating story of the tradition and mastery of the craftsmen known in the local language as “figoli”, the ceramic artisans. Here, you can see the works of these ancient potters and ceramic entrepreneurs, the pride of the city since the 15th century (Oristano has gained a well-deserved place in the Italian Association of Ceramic Cities).
Even modern-day artisans try their hand at the art of ceramics with great skill, trying to make their passion renowned and passing it on to the new generations. For this purpose, you can watch multimedia installations showing the masterpieces preserved in the convent of Santa Chiara, re-enactments of working methods, styles, and more.
- Address: Via Sant’Antonio.
- Opening hours: Every day 10 am-1 pm and 4-8 pm. Closed on December 25th and 26th and on January 1st.
- Tickets: 5€.
Relax on the beach of Torregrande
Torregrande is the beach of Oristano. About 3 kilometers long, it is very organized with accommodation facilities, bars and restaurants and has a wide seafront for a nice walk in any season.
The name of Torregrande (standing for “big tower”) is given by the presence of a tall Spanish tower, the largest on the Sardinian coast, built between 1542 and 1572. The beach is also perfect for families with children and for adults who love snorkeling and admiring the clear water seabed.
Attend the Sartiglia for Carnival
If you organize your trip to Sardinia in the winter, don’t miss the Sartiglia of Oristano. The celebrations begin at least two weeks earlier with the commemoration known as Candelora, but this is more of a locals’ prerogative. Carnival Sunday and Shrove Tuesday are the main days you should aim for.
On both occasions, among the most important events are the dressing of the leader of each Gremio (medieval corporation) and spectacular horse races.
In addition to this ritual for which you necessarily need an invitation, the main part of the festival is infact the two horse races. In the first, the knights chosen by Su Componidori try to hit the star with their swords, while in the second race, the skilled knights perform acrobatic vaultings.