|The riddle of the Coracodes Portus
2. The earliest evidences
The secular controversies
4. The most recent discoveries
|1. The origins
|S'archittu's bay has
played a strategic role since the most remote
historical ages: near its natural arch there was indeed the Coracodes Limen, the
harbor of Cornus, that was one of the most important Sardinian-Punic cities,
The first and main evidence about the existence of the Cornus seaport
dates back to the second century after Christ. Claudius Ptolemy (about
100 - about 178), the famed Egyptian geographer-astronomer, talks about
it in his Geographia
(Book III, Chapter III), which is a catalog of the most important
places known at that time. Among them, Ptolemy puts in Sardinia the
city of Cornus and its harbor, which he calls, in greek, Coracodes Limen (that in Latin
means Coracodes Portus).
The maps drawn by
Ptolemy have not survived to the present. However, he has provided the
exact coordinates (according to a pattern designed by himself) of all
the mentioned places, so it is possible to reconstruct its maps.
Alberto La Marmora already had tried successfully to do this work. Today, an
accurate reconstruction of the whole Ptolemaic cartography has been
edited by the University of Kansas.
In any case, according to the Ptolemaic coordinates, the Coracodes Portus
(30*20, 37°35) is located in the south-west of Cornus (30*30, 37 °45),
close to the city. Therefore, it may be the place of S'Archittu, with a
very good approximation, taking account of the typical
distortions of ancient maps.
of two reconstructions of Ptolemy's map, showing the relative positions
of Cornus and the Coracodes Portus. Above is the version by Alberto La
Marmora, below is the one realized by the University of Kansas.
2. The earliest evidences
Over the last few
centuries there has been a considerable debate on the exact location of
the Coracodes Portus,
swinging his identification between Alghero and Capo Mannu. The main
reason for this uncertainty was that for a long time even the position
of Cornus was not accurately identified, because the ruins of the
citywere almost invisible, buried under the Corchinas Hill.
In the sixteenth century
Giovanni Francesco Fara (1543-1591) has been
the first historian who has located the city of Cornus in the position
in which it is really.
In his work In Sardiniae
Chorographiam he's very explicit, and he clearly locates the Coracodes Portus in S'Archittu.
We report here the passage by this Sardinian author, which is
particularly interesting because it is the oldest attestation (we are
around 1585) of the names "Torre del Pozzo" and "S'Archittu":
descriptio et misura litoralis. (...) 1 m. pass. Ad stationem Putei ubi
est turris speculatoria ; 2 m. pass. Ad Architum, portum Coracodes a
Ptolemaeo dictum, cui vicina iacet prostrata urbs antiqua Cornu a
Livio, Ptolemaeo et Antonino Pio memorata».
«Description of the west coast and measurement of the seaboard. (...)
One mile to Stationem putei
[Torre del Pozzo, Tower of the well], where there is a sighting tower;
two miles to Architum
[S'Archittu], known by Ptolemy as Coracodes Harbor: nearby is situated,
destroyed, Cornus, an ancient city mentioned by Livio, Ptolemy and
As you can see, according
to Fara the identification Coracodes Portus -
S'Archittu is a certainty. However, in the centuries after the writing
of In Sardiniae Chorographiam,
several authors continued to locate the harbor in other places. The
reason is also that Fara's work has remained a manuscript until 1835,
the year of its first publication.
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The secular controversies
In 1840, the historian
Giuseppe Manno, in his Storia di
Sardegna (History of Sardinia),
Tome I, Book III, states that the Coracodes
must be located "On the beach of Pitinuri, according to Fara," and he
rejects the suggestion advanced by the cartographer Cluverius, who
located the harbor at Alghero. Manno doesn't name explicitly
"S'Archittu", and it would seem that he locate our harbor in Santa
Caterina di Pittinuri. However, he mentions G.F. Fara and it suggests
that, for him, the site of "Pitinuri" must be understood in a broad
sense, and also it includes the bay of the Arch.
In 1881, the scholar
Ettore Pais, in his book Sardegna
prima del dominio romano (Sardinia
before the Roman rule), seems to upset the Fara's theory, when
he places the Coracodes Portus
near Capo Mannu:
was located a short distance from the sea, where you can see the
remains of a tuna fishery and where you recognize the clear traces of
man in some small bays: while perhaps somewhat more to the south there
was the the Coracodes Portus (Koracodes Limen) name that recalls
also North Africa. (...) On the position of the Coracodes Portus, now Cape Manno,
v. La Marmora (...).».
Pais, therefore, appears
cautious ("perhaps somewhat more to the south") on the assumption that
the Coracodes Portus could
be far to the south of Cornus, at Capo Mannu, and in any case he refers
to La Marmora, which we discuss below.
Alberto La Marmora
(1789-1863), in his famous work Viaggio
in Sardegna (Trip in Sardinia),
written in 1826, deals in great detail the problem of the location of
the seaport of Cornus, taking into account two possibilities. The first
is that of Capo Mannu:
Then we will seek the Coracodes
at the required distance between these two points, and we will place it
under the Capo Mannu, in a beautiful cove not far from the Tower of the
After that, however, La Marmora investigates a second hypothesis, which
is closer to the Fara's one about S'Archittu:
you prefer to refer to some sort of tradition and to a resemblance
between the ancient name of Coracodes
and the modern name of Corchinas,
by which is meant the maritime region of ancient Cornus, (...), these
data would agree quite well with the actual measurements (...).
Cluverius is wrong when he says that the Coracodes Portus is the harbor
We recall that the
Corchinas hill is located between S'Archittu and
Santa Caterina. About the possibility of Alghero, it is also flatly
excluded by this author.
La Marmora, in this passage, does not mention specifically S'Archittu,
but he's quite explicit when he says that the Coracodes Portus
could be in the «maritime region of ancient Cornus», and S'Archittu is,
as the crow flies, the landfall closer to the Punic city. Must also be
ruled out that the writer wants to locate the harbor in Santa Caterina
di Pittinuri, because he speaks extensively about that village, so if
he wanted to, he would have named it explicitly here.
the map of the Ancient Sardinia, designed by Alberto La Marmora in
1840, both his hypothesis about the Coracodes Portus are
a later work, Itinerario dell'isola
di Sardegna (Itinerary of the
in 1868, La Marmora appears much more confident when he says that the
Cornus harbor is in close proximity to of the ancient Punic city. It
should be noted in this context that this paper is subsequent to 1835,
the year of publication of the of Fara's work:
«The seaport which
is near these ruins, at the region generally described as Corchinas,
seems to be the ancient Coracodes
Portus of Ptolemy».
you can see, even here La Marmora talks about a landing place that is
near Cornus, but not in Santa Caterina di Pittinuri. In fact, just
after La Marmora speaks about that beach, and he explains that there are
difficulties in docking:
beach of this little bay is covered with pebbles, and so you can pull
to ground the small boats: but the larger ones are not very safe,
because the west wind that dominates this area when the sea is in
motion, prevents the cargo and discharge of the merchandise».
So La Marmora could allude to only one place: the Arch.
Moreover, in the Itinerary,
La Marmora expressly mentions S'Archittu, only in passing, with a remark
that seems interesting:
leaving the ruins of this ancient city [Cornus], near an old tower
called "Su Puttu" (the well) there are the remains of an ancient tuna
fishery. From the sea can be seen a small headland above which I call
the attention of the geologist who will go into these places. The rock
that forms the main bulk of this promontory is composed of different
layers of rough limestone (...).
I will not talk about some small bays of that promontory, and of the
near side: some one of them seems dug by human hands: one of these is
called S'Archittu, and the other su Fossigheddu».
It's clear that the "small headland" is the so-called "Balena"
("Whale"), and it is probable that "Su fossigheddu" is the current
"Scoglio del Genovese" ("Genoese's rock"). About the tuna fishery,
there are other books on geography of the '800 that talk about it.
However, it is remarkable that La Marmora suggests that the arch may
have artificial origins.
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The most recent discoveries
now to the twentieth and twenty-first century, we can see that
the most important contemporary Sardinian historians have examined the
question of the Coracodes Portus.
However, most of them haven't added important elements to the
controversy of the past centuries and they have often opted for the
hypothesis of Capo Mannu.
Among these authors, however, is an exception Massimo Pittau, renowned
professor of sardinian linguistics at the University of Sassari. He
brings new arguments in support of the positioning at S'Archittu.
Pittau held a speech on the Cornus harbor during a Congress about
Ampsicora held in Sassari in 1998, on which we will briefly discuss.
Pittau's thesis is based on the analysis of the toponymy of S'Archittu.
He argues (and at this point it is difficult he's wrong), that the
ancient name "Coracodes" is at the root of the name "Cagaragas" which
means today the area behind the Genoese Rock. Pittau says:
therefore would be the modern version, due to a popular etymology, of
Korhacódes. In our opinion, the doubts (...) must fall because of this
important fact: the city of Cornus had to have his harbor very close
and not far away at Cala Su Pallosu or Cala Saline, as some historians
have Recently written. These sites are about 10 km from Cornus. (...)
Instead the location of S'archittu is just 500 meters away from Cornus
as the crow flies».
Pittau's also provides us with the solution on the etymology of the
name Coracodes Portus, which literally means "harbor like a beak's
This author, in the same speech, also takes up the argument (which,
ultimately, is the strongest), which S'Archittu is the only
landing place actually protected and safe in a long stretch of
coastline. In fact, it is the only natural harbor between Capo Mannu
|A bitt for mooring of boats, such
clearly man-made, carved into the limestone near the Arch.
Pittau talks about this
subject also on its website, where he published a classification of the
is the port of Cornus in the seaside town of S'Archittu, where have
recently been found traces of the harbor now under the sea level due to
a positive bradyseism that interested him for over 10 meters. It is
possible that the old name continues in the modern "Cagaragas tip"».
As we have seen in the
last text quoted, in the twentieth century the search for Coracodes Portus
has moved from the theoretical to the practical method, and the
assumptions by the historians have given way to the surveys on-site by
the archaeologists, that latter took place in 1998. They finally
dispelled any doubt about the presence of the ancient harbor at the
Arch, as reported by the police of the Provincial Command of Oristano
in a statement mentioned in an article published by Romolo Concas on L'Unione Sarda, on 11 June 1998:
have established (...) that close to the existing rock arch
(S'Archittu) there is a corridor carved into the bottom of the sea to
ten meters deep. We found a navigable canal dug in the rocky bottom
that allowed access to the harbor, from the open sea, of the many boats
arriving and departing. We found traces of a quay mooring with a
regular floor for loading and unloading of goods and passengers. We
have discovered a docking point, at which, on the surface, there are
two rudimentary mooring bitts with a section of one meter, and the
distance between them than ten meters, dug in the limestone. we
discovered many archaeological finds such as pottery, amphoras, vases
of all kinds, so we understand how the harbor in the past was intensely
frequented by merchant traffic».
Nineteen centuries after Ptolemy's Geographia,
this time, the riddle of Coracodes
Limen has been really revealed.
to prof. Massimo Pittau for his courtesy and helpfulness, when he
provided us with the text of his report before the publication.
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Titus Livius, Ab Urbe Condita,
book XXIII, chapter VI, 40.
Claudius Ptolemy, Geographia,
cook III, chapter III.
Giovanni Francesco Fara, In
Sardiniae chorographiam Libri duo, Liber I, in Opere, critical edition by Enzo
Cadoni, italian translation by Maria Teresa Laneri, 1992, Ed. Gallizzi,
Sassari, p. 94.
Alberto La Marmora, Viaggio In
Sardegna, Edizioni della fondazione Il Nuraghe, Cagliari, 1927,
Book II, Chapter III, pp. 313-314.
Alberto La Marmora, Itinerario
dell’isola di Sardegna, translated and summarized by can. Spano,
facsimile edition by
A. Alagna, Cagliari, 1868, Ed.Trois, Cagliari, tome II, chapter
VI, pp. 344-355.
Giuseppe Manno, Storia di Sardegna,
facsimile of the original edition of 1840, ed. Gianni Trois,
Cagliari, tome I, pp. 74-75, 218-221.
Ettore Pais, Sardegna Prima del
dominio Romano, facsimile edition of the edition of the
Accademia dei Lincei of 1881, ed. Gianni Trois, Cagliari, p. 336.
Ettore Pais, Storia della Sardegna e
della Corsica durante il dominio Romano, facsimile edition,
ed. Gianni Trois, Cagliari, tome I, pp. 58-59.
Gustavo Strafforello and others, La
Patria, Geografia dell’Italia. Sardegna, Torino, Unione
Tipografico-editrice, 1895. pp. 232-235.
Romolo Concas, Ecco il porto di
Cornus, in L’Unione Sarda dell’11-6-1998
Massimo Pittau, Il porto di Cornus,
in the conference proceedings about Ampsicora, Sassari, november 1998,
now published in Lingua e civiltà di
Sardegna, edizioni della Torre, 2005.
Main websites visited
University of Kansas
Professor Massimo Pittau website
It may be freely reproduced, with the same license, specifying that it has taken from this
representations of the three maps, which are property of their
respective publishers, are reproduced here in accordance with the rules
on copyright, in particular the article 70, paragraph 1-bis, of italian
law April 22 1941, n. 633.