The ancient “Montes Insani”

The ancient “Montes Insani”

The difficulties of sailing near the cliffs of Capo Monte Santu have been known since ancient times and many historians identify this stretch of the eastern coast with the “Insani Montes” cited by many authors, especially in relation to tragic shipwrecks. In Latin, “Insanus” means “crazy”, but also “huge”, and when referred to natural phenomena, “tempestuous or stormy”. Livy, for example, reports that in 202 BC (at the time of the Second Punic War) a fleet of 50 quinqueremes ships, en route to Africa under the command of Tiberius Claudius Nero console, after having passed the Island of Elba and Corsica, was almost completely destroyed by a terrible storm while it sailed along the eastern coast of Sardinia near the “Insanos Montes”. The few ships that survived the terrible storm, according to Livy, had to flee to the distant port of Karales, now known as Cagliari. Another disastrous shipwreck involving Roman ships in the vicinity of “Montes Insani”, which occurred in 397 AD, nearly six hundred years after the one reported by Livy, is mentioned by the writer Claudian in his poem “De Bello Gildonico” (398 AD), in which he describes the military expedition of general Stilicho against the king of Mauritania Gildone. Claudian narrates that the fleet led by Stilicho, having reached the “Montes Insani”, was forced to separate due to a storm. Some of the ships found refuge in the north, in the port of Olbia, while the others, writes Claudian, fled to Sulci (perhaps the “Sulpicius Portus” mentioned by Ptolemy, that many authors place where modern day Arbatax now lies). The presence of numerous Roman shipwrecks reported by divers along the eastern coast of Sardinia proves that shipwrecks along this stretch of coastline were not uncommon. The reason is because, in imperial times, grain-transporting ships that sailed from Ostia to Carthage would pass by eastern coast ports on the return journey, one of which may have been the “Sulpicius portus”. An interesting Roman shipwreck dated to the first century AD rests on the seafloor of Capo Bellavista (Arbatax); found in 1954, more than 400 kg of tin, iron and copper ingots have been retrieved from it. Some scholars believe that the “Insanos Montes” are not the cliffs found between Baunei and Dorgali: according to this interpretation, the name “Montes Insani” refers to a vast mountain system that includes mountains on the eastern coast at Gennargentu up to the Marghine massif at the centre of the island.


Cala dei Gabbiani (Seagull Cove)

‘Cala dei Gabbiani’ (Seagull Cove): this beach, about 250 metres long, owes its name to the fact that dozens of seagulls gather here every evening around sunset.

Pedra Longa

Along the coastline, a few miles north of Santa Maria, is the limestone peak of “Pedra Longa”.

Cala Goloritzé – Baunei’s coast

Cala Goloritzé, Baunei Coast: spectacular beach framed by limestone, crystal clear sea and mountains. A popular destination for excursions and climbing.

Su Meraculu Cave

Inland from Cala Sisine, about an hour’s walk from the beach, it is a very evocative cave, whose very name reveals some curious characteristics: it is called the “Grotta del Miracolo” (“Su Meraculu”, in Sardinian).

Venus’ Pools

Venus’ Pools, located on the coast of Baunei, a short distance from Grotta del Fico and Cala Biriala, crystal clear water.

Cala Luna

A beach, that of Cala Luna, which already at first glance shows that it fully deserves the definition of ‘Pearl of the Mediterranean’.

The ancient “Montes Insani”

The roughness of navigation along the cliffs of Capo Monte Santu has been known since antiquity, and many historians identify this stretch of the east coast with the ‘Insani Montes’ mentioned by numerous authors, especially in connection with tragic shipwrecks.

Forrola and Punta Giràdili

To the north of Pedra Longa is “Forrola” bay, dominated by the majestic “Punta Giradili”, which, at 765 metres, is one of the highest cliffs in the Mediterranean.

Grotta del Fico (Fig Tree Cave)

Sailing northwards, about a mile away from the ‘Mudaloru’ beach, is the ‘Grotta del Fico’ (Fig Cave), which opens up in the limestone cliffs, about 10 metres above sea level.

Cala Birìala

The beach of “Cala Birìala” (called “Birìola” by the Cala Gonone fishermen) was one of the beaches most often visited by monk seals.

Capo Monte Santu cliffs

The promontory of Capo Monte Santu marks the southern border of the Gulf of Orosei, whose northern border is at Capo Comino.

La Grotta dei Colombi (Cave of Pigeons)

The “Grotta dei Colombi” is only accessible by sea and in order to see the stunning majesty of the vault up close, it is necessary to sail very close to the cliff.

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