An Ab-Nora-mal Roman Site: Ancient Nora in Modern Pula

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The Nora Archaeological Site, Area Archeologica di Nora, Pula, Sardinia

Finding out that there was a Roman site to visit near the Sardinian city of Cagliari was quite exciting.  Finding out that it was next to the sea made it even better – having visited a number of sites along the Turkish coast, I figured that I’d be in for a fun few hours.

That didn’t quite happen.

First of all, we had to go around with a guide.  This put my back up straight away.  I’m sorry, I don’t like being guided – basically because everyone is treated like they know nothing and we have to trudge along slowly, unless there’s something interesting nearby, in which case we rush past it.    For those who don’t know anything about the Romans, maybe this approach works fine.  For me – it’s frustrating and boring.

It also means I switch off and miss any factoid that may have actually been interesting.

But this is what I know about the site.

The origins of the site are not known.  Pausanias, to whom we owe a lot of ancient foundation myths/truths, said that it was founded by the mythical hero, Norace, the leader of the Iberians.  What archaeology has shown is that the site was occupied from about 1500 BC, although there is barely a trace of this Nuraghic building work now, because the town was destroyed in 540 BC by the Carthaginians.  The Romans came in 238 BC, and set fire to the town – there is an ash layer between the Punic and Roman layers of archaeology – and thus began the last phase of Nora’s existence.

With an enviably still natural bay, Nora was a popular port, and the city grew during the Roman period.  In 79 AD, the inhabitants were made citizens, which gave them many privileges, and in the next years grand buildings were constructed which cemented the city’s ‘Roman-ness’: grand baths, a forum, temples and a theatre.

Between 456-466 the Vandals invaded Sardinia and Nora built defensive walls to protect themselves against the attackers.  Sadly, the walls didn’t do much good.  The inhabitants of Nora moved inland, and the city of Nora was left to nature.

It wasn’t until the 16th century that the ancient town was found again, and excavations only began after accidental unearthing of some structures.  Archaeologists are still at work here, but much of the ancient city lies beneath the waves.  I gather scuba divers can explore this ( which sounds like it would be a fantastic experience.

So In Summary

The site is in an attractive location, largely surrounded by the sea.  Unfortunately I found this trip to Nora very unsatisfying and to a large degree this was because you HAD to join a tour group.  Now, I knew that they did tours but I didn’t realise that you were forced to go around the site with one.  So, we had a tight schedule due to our having to catch a particular bus back to Cagliari, and were annoyed to discover that we had to wait for over an hour for a tour in English.  We opted for a forty-odd minute wait which meant we went around with a French group instead.

As it happens, the guide was not terribly informative.  She gave vague information that I’d already read about.  More annoyingly,  the ‘tour’ encompassed a rather short route that basically could have been walked in five minutes.  We could see the site extending in all directions from where we were allowed to go, which was incredibly frustrating.  We were forced to linger and stare at things that didn’t seem terribly interesting to me – and frankly I was bored much of the time.  The site, which should be incredibly atmospheric and is in a beautiful spot, just came across as being that sort of stereotypical place which puts people off archaeology.  It’s fair enough that they can’t monitor the whole site and that some areas have restricted access, but it’s hard to believe that allowing visitors to ramble around a little more freely would have been in any way a bother.  If we’d been allowed to choose whether to explore alone or not, I think it would have made a big difference to the experience.

Further Information

The limited information about the site is available only in Italian on their website:

One of the reasons we were particularly annoyed to have been held hostage with the tour times was because it meant that we didn’t have time to go to the local museum, which I gather has some fairly interesting stuff on show:

If you’re lucky, during your bus journey through the salt marshes, you’ll see some flamingos!

How To Get There

There is a bus that goes to Nora from the central bus station in Cagliari (next to McDonalds and the train station).  The buses run erratically and can be seen on a blue sheet of paper (or it was when I went) on the wall of the bus station, near the ticket counter.


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