A Sardinian town with 150 murals: Orgosolo
From being a notorious Sardinian town filled with bandits, Orgosolo is now known for its intriguing murals that show the stories of (global) political events, as well as Sardinian history and local traditions.
Sardinia has about 250 paintings and 150 of those are in the tiny village of Orgosolo. Being a big fan of colorful murals (and basically just any form of art!) I had to stop by Orgosolo.
In this blog post, you will find out more about Orgosolo, a town with a turbulent history that has reinvented itself as an interesting place to visit.
Bandits in Orgosolo
Orgosolo is a comune (municipality) hidden among the Sardinian mountains in the Province of Nuoro. Because of the isolated location, criminals were drawn to Orgosolo and violence ruled this town in the 19th century. Let’s say it was the ideal place for outlaws to hide (or to kidnap people!) from the Sardinian authorities.
It’s safe to say Orgosolo used to be a place you did NOT want to visit as a tourist. Back in 1962 British journalist Norman Lewis even uncovered a series of 500 murders when he was sent by The Telegraph to investigate the death of an English couple. Behind those killings was the Codice Barbaricino (Code of Barbagian).
Orgosolo’s reputation inspired Italian cinema director and screenwriter Vittorio De Seta to make a movie about the bandits in Orgosolo called Banditi a Orgosolo (Bandits of Orgosolo), with local shepherds in leading roles. In case you’re curious, you can watch the trailer of the 1961 black and white film (the music at 2:08 made me feel nervous!).
What to expect of this Sardinian town?
Luckily, today there is not much to see of Orgosolo’s violent past. Instead, there is a rather calm atmosphere. Besides the dazzling collection of 150 murals, expect to walk into and old town where old car wrecks are just as common as modern cars and where locals chill outside looking curious whenever a tourist passes by.
The murals, that portray political events, tragedies, and scenes of daily life reveal interesting aspects of the Sardinian culture. I think this tiny village, surrounded by unspoiled nature, is a great addition to add to your Sardinian itinerary!
This town feels authentic and tourism has not yet risen here. As far as we could tell, there was only one tourist shop and a handful of bars and restaurants. Personally, we didn’t mind the limited food options because we arrived in Orgosolo after having lunch in Bosa. Most menus are only available in Italian.
Locals do seem to speak a few words of English and are happy to help you out. And, in case you’re wondering, the Internet connection worked just fine around here (although you kind of feel in the middle of nowhere!).
Orgosolo has a few colorful streets but some areas look rough and seem in a state of decline. It made me a little sad seeing this town looks somewhat forgotten. There seems to be a low investment in improving Orgosolo’s overall condition. However, I’m guessing most locals don’t care that much.
I think any history or art lover can appreciate a visit to Orgosolo but also curious tourists (like myself!) will enjoy this place. The number of murals makes it very different from any other Sardinian town. Besides that, I think this ancient town will probably teach you more about Sardinia than any other town on the island.
As far as how much time you need in Orgosolo, I would say you can easily see the entire village during the morning or afternoon. You don’t need a full day unless you’re into translating all the murals and figuring out their meaning.
The origin of the murals in Orgosolo
The first mural in Orgosolo was created in 1969 by Dionisio, an anarchist theatrical troupe from Milan. It questioned what the role of Sardinia was in the Italian government’s policy. During that time Italy’s economic boom collapsed and there were massive strikes and social unrest. Murals back then (and still can be) are a form to express protest.
This mural inspired Tuscan teacher and artist Francesco Del Casino to bring his students out into the streets to get them deeper involved in politics. Therefore, Del Casino painted more murals and covered topics such as the oppression of Nazism, global social injustices – from Vietnam to Gaza and the unemployment ratio.
What kind of murals can you expect to see?
Political topics are the main subject, as well as international events such as the 9-11 attacks in New York and the protest against G8 in Genoa. In addition, you will come across murals that reveal daily life in Sardinia and Sardinian history and traditions.
If you’re interested to learn more about the origin of the murals, there is a guided multilingual (also English) audio tour available which you can pick up at the tourist office.
13 of my favorite murals to visit in Orgosolo
My selection of murals in this blog post is based on which ones I was able to photograph without disturbing anyone. Since we arrived on a sunny day during the weekend most locals were outside and enjoying their day off.
I could tell most of them are not that used to seeing a tourist walking around with a (noticeable) camera so I tried to blend in. Oh, and the best way to spot murals it to look in every (dark) alley! I bet there will be one (or more) hidden.
Murals in Orgosolo on the map
The interactive map below tells you what the exact location of each mural is:
- The red camera icons indicate all 13 murals shown in this blog post
- You can click on any of the individual icons to reveal the numbered mural as well as its exact address
The Corso Repubblica is Orgosolo’s main street and the perfect starting point to begin your mural tour. Most murals will be located in or around that street. Also, don’t worry, about zigzagging through town. Orgosolo is a small village so distances are close and the murals make navigating easy!
The murals in Orgosolo are starting to get worldwide attention and have been recognized as “cultural heritage” rather than an expression of protest. Organizations such as SCI (Service Civil International) even have begun to give workshops on painting murals.
In 2000, the local government invested millions of lire to restore a couple of murals. Fortunately, they can easily be retouched because they are designed with water-based paints. Nonetheless, in my opinion some pieces could still use a little work as they were faded and difficult to read.
Where to eat in Orgosolo?
Getting hungry while exploring murals? These are some tasty options to consider:
- Ristorante Camping Supramonte (review on TripAdvisor) is great if you want to try traditional Sardinian meals such as pasta’s, grilled meat, tasty desserts.
- Il Portico Orgosolo (review on TripAdvisor) is the place to go for pizza made with local vegetables and meat.
- Gastronomia Tavola Calda da Roberto (review on TripAdvisor) is convenient when you’re looking for a simple dish or just a burger or sandwich.
The last tip I have is visiting Il Cortile del Formaggio (review on TripAdvisor) to try out local cheese and honey. Loved the cheese you tasted? You can buy Sardinian pecorino (cheese made from sheep milk) in their shop.
Looking for a quick refreshment?
We stopped at CUNZIMU (review on TripAdvisor) because it had a cute outside terrace (they also sell small bites and sweets). A soda and a beer was €5 in total, which is similar to what we would pay in the Netherlands.
How to travel to Orgosolo?
From Olbia Airport
The closest airport to Orgosolo is Olbia Airport. From there I would highly recommend to rent a car and drive to Orgosolo. The ride itself takes about 1,5 hours where you will be accompanied by lush green views of Sardinia. That is the easiest and quickest way.
Is there public transport available from one of the airports to Orgosolo?
Yes, but it will take you forever to get there. There seems to be no route under 3 hours.
Where to park your car in Orgoslo?
It’s best to park your car before entering the village. We parked our car right here on the Strada Provinciale (Main Road) and this was free. I wouldn’t recommend driving into town because the streets can be steep, narrow, and are full of twists and turns. We saw a couple getting stuck in a street and it took them over 30 min. to get out!