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Sardinia Island: The Land and Economy

Updated on April 7, 2014

Sardinia is the second largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, constituting, with some small neighboring islands, an autonomous region of Italy. The Italian form of its name is Sardegna. The island, whose capital is Cagliari, is about 120 miles (190 km) southwest of central Italy. It is separated from the Italian mainland by the Tyrrhenian Sea and from Corsica, 7.5 miles (12 km) to the north, by the Strait of Bonifacio. Sardinia is hot and dry during the summer. In the winter it is warm and has light rainfall. The autonomous region is divided into eight provinces: Cagliari, Carbonia-Iglesias, Medio Campidano, Nuoro, Ogliastra, Olbia-Tempio, Oristano, and Sassari. Sardinia's population was an estimated 1,659,443 in 2007.

The Sardinians are a hardy, honest, haughty, and clannish people. They are also hospitable, generous, and devoted to the Catholic Church. Because of Sardinia's isolation and the strong attachment of its people to the past, especially in the mountainous districts, the Sardinians have preserved many of their customs. Their language has a closer affinity to Latin than modern Italian has, although different dialects prevail in different sections of the island.

The Land


The island, which has an area of 9,196 square miles (23,818 sq km), is about 165 miles (265 km) long and 90 miles (145 km) wide. The coastline is varied, with a large gulf on each side of its four sides and many small harbors and bays. The Gulf of Cagliari, on the south, is the most important. Off the northeast coast there are a number of small islands, including Caprera, which was the refuge of the patriot Giuseppe Garibaldi, and La Maddalena, which has a naval base.

Approximately 90% of Sardinia is mountainous or hilly. A chain of mountains cuts across the northern part from southwest to northeast. The Monti del Gennargentu rise to 6,016 feet (1,834 meters) in the east of the central part of Sardinia. In the northwest there is the Plain of Sassari, while in the south the Campidano Plain, the most fertile section of the island, runs from the Gulf of Oristano on the west to the Gulf of Cagliari on the south. The area near Iglesias in the southwest is rich in minerals.

The largest river is the Tirso, which rises in the high plateau of Budduso, forms the artificial Lake Omodeo, and empties into the Gulf of Oristano on the west. The Flumendosa rises in the Monti del Gennargentu and flows to the east coast. The Coghinas, whose source is in the Marghine Mountains, discharges into the Gulf of Asinara.

The island's main city is Cagliari, the historic and regional capital. Situated at the head of the Gulf of Cagliari, it is Sardinia's only large industrial center and the focus of commerce. Cagliari's population is 164,249 (2001 census). Among other important cities are the provincial capitals of Sassari (the only other city with a population of more than 100,000), Nuoro, and Oristano.




Numerous development plans have been promoted in an effort to advance Sardinia's economy in both the agricultural and industrial sectors. One plan initiated landholding reforms, while the Cassa per il Mezzogiorno (Fund for the South), begun in 1950, helps finance public works, especially hydroelectric and irrigation projects. Other plans have committed the national government to investments designed to invigorate the economy and lift the standard of living.

Sardinia's industries are chiefly agricultural. Agricultural production has been increased through the introduction of modern equipment and cultivation methods. The main products are wheat, barley, beans, and wine. Sardinia provides 75% of Italy's cork production. Olives, tobacco, and, along the coasts, fruits are also grown. The mountainous areas are devoted to pasture, with sheep, goats, and cattle the principal livestock.

Nonagricultural industries include mining, fishing, tourism, and some manufacturing. Mining, particularly near Iglesias, produces lead, zinc, copper, iron, manganese, coal, and smaller amounts of several other minerals. Salt pans are concentrated near Cagliari and Carloforte. Fishing is limited and is pursued primarily by mainland immigrants. Tourism has shown steady increases but has been hampered by the island's lack of modern facilities.

Although there are several main roads running east-west and north-south, Sardinia's road network is not dense. The principal towns are connected by railroad. The primary ports are Cagliari, Olbia, and Porto Torres. Cagliari is the chief commercial port, and Olbia, in the northeast, is the main passenger port.


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