30 August 1353: in the bay of Porto Conte, 45 Catalan galleys, flanked by
25 Venetian galleys, under the command of Bernardo Cabrera, emerge victorious over the Ligurian fleet led by Antonio Grimaldi.
The Aragonese occupation signalled the beginning of the history
of L'Alguer - a city marked by the Catalan flavour
that has permeated its streets, architecture and civic life.
To this day, in what is a unique instance of the conservation of a foreign civilisation in Italy. Indeed, in Alghero, everything "speaks Catalan": the streets
and the shops, the language
, the lifestyle, the cuisine
and the traditions.
This is the heritage of the long period in which the destiny of Alghero - a city state during the centuries of Aragonese domination
- was very firmly intertwined with that of the Iberian countries.
Aragonese tales tell of the criss-crossing of the carrers
(the alleys ventilated by the sea breeze), the mullioned windows of the monumental palaces, the great fan-shaped sandstone doors, the bell towers with their spires standing out against the sky and the ancient Occitanian dances.
The "cittadina bonita y bien assentada
" - meaning "gracious and well-fortified city", as it was defined in 1541 by Emperor Carlos V on his visit to Alghero - continues to this day to fascinate and surprise, as it politely invites visitors to stroll around its streets and to discover, in the process, its remarkable natural and historical riches
Sounds and voices of Catalonia
The centuries of Aragonese domination gave Alghero its own Catalan language
, which has remained alive to the present day. This is very much a one-off case in Italy
The Algherese dialect, still widely used, is a linguistic variant of Catalan,
which makes Alghero
very much a pais catalā
. The dialect is awash with echoes and sounds of Catalonia, and can easily be heard by listening to the tales being reeled off by the old people of the town as they sit at the door of their houses.
While the phonetics may have drifted quite some way from the mother tongue,
the lexicon remains that of old Catalan, with a limited number of Castillian, Sardinian and Italian elements thrown into the mix, reflecting the various powers that have asserted themselves here over the centuries.
With a view to keeping the Catalan dialect a vital part of life in Alghero, the City Council has, over recent years, implemented numerous measures geared towards reintroducing the dialect
in formal documents and towards using it in various communicative contexts.
Through the alleys of the ciutat vella
In the maze of cobbled streets and alleys within the walls of the ancient fortified town
- the beating heart of Alghero - the air is impregnated with a sense of history and a sense of the sea.
These narrow streets, pulsating with life, are lined with fascinating historic palazzos
and ancient residences, along with sky-scraping bell towers and multi-coloured cupolas belonging to numerous churches
, which stand as testaments to the lengthy religious history of the city. It all adds up to a delightful mix of Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Neo-classical architecture.
These streets play host to numerous craft workshops
- where you can find original jewellery made from red coral
, filigree and precious stones - and to quaint stores, housed in old sandstone storerooms with barrel-vaulted ceilings, which sell everything from clothing to books and traditional sweets.
It is a delightful experience to stroll along these streets at your leisure, making your way through the thronging crowd, which is interrupted now and again by slow-moving horses and carts loaded with inquisitive tourists.
These streets are enveloped by intense, inviting aromas emanating from numerous cafes and restaurants.
The great open-air museum that is the historical centre of Alghero encourages passers-by to take it slowly in order to soak up the unique atmosphere.
The flavours of Alghero
Few ingredients but a great deal of creativity.
Traditional Algherese cuisine is based, above all, on seafood and vegetables,
and is distinguished by a refined simplicity
that is intended to maximise the impact of the flavours. It is a cuisine in which vegetables, artichokes and tomatoes predominate, along - of course - with the fish that are so plentiful along the coast.
Copaza de peix
, or fish soup, is the most typical dish in Alghero's marine tradition, whereas Algherese or Catalan lobster
is perhaps the most renowned dish.
During winter, the sea-urchin
is the king of Algherese cuisine.
It is best savoured on its own with a glass of fine wine along the quayside or within delicious spaghetti dishes.
The Catalan essence of the city emerges clearly in its flavoursome, colourful recasting of the famous Spanish paella
, which is served up by Alghero's numerous restaurants with rice, saffron, vegetables, molluscs and shellfish.