Detailed sheets

The underground village

A part of the Punic necropolis of Sant'Antioco was reused until almost the present day as a housing area. This consists of a portion of the burial ground located on the west side, at the foot of Mont'e Cresia. The defensive structure of fort Su Pisu, built in the eighteenth century, stands on top of the elevation (figs. 1-2).

Fig. 1 - Overview of a part of the hypogeum village as it stands today; in the background it is possible to see the Savoy fortress (photo by Unicity S.p.A.).
Fig. 2 - Savoy stronghold of Su Pisu (photo by Unicity S.p.A.).

From the second half of the eighteenth century, after a long period of neglect caused by the frequent incursions of Saracen pirates, the island began being gradually repopulated, giving birth to the current town of Sant'Antioco.

Already in 1615, on the occasion of the discovery of the alleged remains of the saint, below the so-called Martyrium-basilica named after him, Bishop Francisco De Esquivel tried to end the abandonment of the island, even by resorting to the promise of granting lands in favour of those who wished to settle. Many families, attracted by this alluring promise, began a new life on the island, while others were not so lucky and had to adapt to living in the ancient reclaimed tombs, called Is Gruttas ("the caves") in the local dialect. What was to be a temporary accommodation, then became a stable housing situation. Because of this, the original hypogea underwent radical changes to the point of even accommodating ovens and fireplaces inside (figs. 3-5).

Fig. 3 - Exterior of an underground Punic funerary tomb converted into a dwelling (photo by Unicity SpA).
Fig. 4 - Hypothetical reconstruction of an underground Punic funerary tomb converted into a dwelling (photo by M. Murgia).
Fig. 5 - Hypothetical reconstruction of a kitchen with a fireplace in an underground Punic funerary tomb (photo by Unicity SpA).

The people who lived in the Gruttas were generally devoted to collecting wild products from the land in order to exchange these for other basic necessities. Canon G. Spano (188) was struck by the improper reuse of the tombs and in this regard he wrote: "(...) Seeing people come out of those caves early in the morning is a terrible contrast with the men who were destined to sleep there forever". The so-called underground village remained in use until the end of the seventies of the last century (fig. 6).

Fig. 6 - Old photograph of the still inhabited underground village (from



  • A. BOSCOLO, La Sardegna bizantina e alto-giudicale, Sassari 1982.
  • G. RACHELI, L’arcipelago di Sulcis e la sua storia, Calasetta 1981.
  • G. SPANO, Descrizione dell’antica città di Sulcis = Bullettino Archeologico Sardo 1857, pp. 49-55.