The Ancient City,
the history of the “City Fortress”
Among the cobble-stone streets of the historical centre, in the façade of the palaces, among the mullions and the walled in doors, is hidden the history, the image and identity of Alghero: Catalonia. It is Catalonia in the architectonic and urban details; it is Catalonia in the Catalan spoken by its inhabitants, which is an expression of a feeling of belonging and affinity with the motherland that is still so alive and vital. The same language spoken by the walls of the city, the architecture and the signs on its churches and the oldest of its palaces.
“There at the shore, this city closed off by ramparts shows from the bottom of its walls, gothic fortresses, bell towers, cupolas, bastions of a citadel and the roofs of the white houses (…) and my spirit returns sweetly to Barcellona”. (G.C. Vuiller, Les Iles oubliés)
Fortified by the Genovese family Doria in 1102 so as to secure its holdings in north-western Sardinia, Alghero thus immediately became an object of conquest. The Republic of Pisa is the first to attempt to take over the Alghero fortress. It succeeded in 1283, only to become Genovese again in 1284. However, today there are few visible signs of the Dorian period among the walls and the streets of the burg because all of Alghuer Vella (The Old City), as it called by current inhabitants, tells yet another story….
It was on 15 June 1353 that the King Peter IV of Aragon “the Ceremonious” arrived in the harbour of Alghero, with more than 90 galleys. After an extensive siege lasting months, Alghero became Catalan. Once the original occupants were expelled, it was repopulated by Iberians; thus began the long Catalan history (XIV-XVIII centuries) of Alghero. A history that is written around the city walls and immediately becoming a chronicle of the City Fortress.
A sturdy and safe shelter in northern Sardinia, the fortress of Alghero represents for the Catalan/Aragonese Crown the key to communication between the Island of Sardinia and Catalonia. It could therefore not be given up: its walls had to be defended, reinforced and carefully maintained.
For this reason, various rules regulated the access and stay of Sardinians and of foreigners within the city walls. Among these was the rule prohibiting non-Catalans to stay overnight there. In 1362 Peter IV ordered that the opening and closing of the city doors was to be entrusted to a Vicar and Counselor. And when at night the doors to Alghero closed, they could not be opened again for any reason whatsoever until the following morning. The entrance into Alguer took places through two doors: Portal Reail (current Porto Terra) and Porta a Mare (current Porto Salve). Still at the centre of the attention of various sovereigns in the late 1400’s Ferdinando II the Catholic orders that the defensive structures of the city be given “another form” so as to guarantee greater protection for the city. Jealously holding onto the unbreachable city walls of Alghero, the city increasingly become an island of Catalonia, within the island of Sardnia.
Even today, in spite of partial demolitions, the walls continue to be a strong place, which is emblematic of the of the identity of the Alghero populations. And it is between the walls and the sea that you can read the soul of the city.