Like Sicily, Sardinia has a rich history that has bred a strong independent cultural tradition. Unlike Sicily, whose capital city of Palermo was once among the leading cultural centers of Europe, no Sardinian tradition of grandeur exists. To be sure, the island has been inhabited since neolithic times, and the Phoenician, Carthaginian, and Roman civilizations all left their traces on its history.
   With the decline of the Roman Empire, the islands of the Mediterranean were threatened by the rising power of the Arabs. To defend itself, Sardinia was divided (around AD 900) into four states called giudicati, forming the basis for the territorial boundaries of the modern-day provinces of Cagliari (which is the largest city), Sassari, Oristano, and Nuora. The giudicati became, in effect, small independent kingdoms, although they were also early examples of constitutional regimes insofar as an assembly of the people known as the corona de logu decided major questions of national interest. The rule of the giudicati came to an end in the late Middle Ages, after which political power was exercised by Spanish dynasties. Sardinia remained Spanish until the early 18th century, and Sardinian culture and its distinctive language has been greatly influenced by Spain’s long domination. In 1718, at the end of the War of the Spanish Succession, Sardinia was awarded to the House of Savoy, although it continued to maintain its formal independence from the Savoy’s other domains until 1847, when Sardinia and Piedmont fused into a single state with a single Parliament, legal system, and government. The subsequent transformation of the Kingdom of Sardinia into the Kingdom of Italy did not lead to special favors. Like the rest of southern Italy it remained a semifeudal backwater. As late as 1911, more than half of adult Sardinians could not read or write. Few were conversant in Italian; most spoke only Sardu, a language similar to Catalan. In 1948, the island became one of five special regions that enjoy a certain legal autonomy from Rome, particularly in questions of urban planning. This autonomy has permitted the development of one of the Mediterranean’s most skillfully marketed tourist industries; environmental activists claim that it has also led to the “cementification” of one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world. The Emerald Coast was effectively colonized by the Aga Khan, drawing in his wake jetsetters and yachtsmen tying up indescribably luxurious seaworthy vessels. Such an influx of well-off individuals in the 1950s and 1960s (even today, Sardinia has managed to maintain an elite tourism) revived one of the island’s most insidious traditions: banditry. As recently as the 1980s and 1990s, there were frequent cases of kidnapping for ransom, which occasionally led to tragic murders. In the mid-1960s a special unit of the Italian police was sent to Sardinia to hunt down the most notorious bandits, in hiding in some of the wildest terrain in Europe. Tourism remains, however, the mainstay of an economy that has suffered greatly since the late 1970s, when traditional industries such as sulfur and coal mining became obsolete. Sardinia’s current gross regional product is, however, less than half the figure achieved by the richer regions of the country, and unemployment has reached 30 percent in the poorest parts of the island. Afew leading Sardinian families have provided many of republican Italy’s leading politicians. President Antonio Segni, his son Mario Segni, Francesco Cossiga, and the Partito Comunista Italiano/Italian Communist Party/ (PCI) leader Enrico Berlinguer all hailed from these influential and interrelated families in the province of Sassari. This is not to mention Antonio Gramsci, certainly one of the leading theoreticians on the historical left. The DC-dominated postwar politics on the island, although the nationalist Partito Sardo d’Azione/Sardinian Action Party could count on an important minority vote.

Historical Dictionary of Modern Italy. . 2007.

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