Photo Workshop Sardinia: Island of light and wild horses
Sardinia has beautiful beaches and mountains and is full of testimonies of its millennia-long history. But wild horses? Well, the wild ancestors of our domestic horses have never lived on the island. But Sardinia already had extensive trade relations in the whole Mediterranean area 4,000 years ago, to the Minoans, Egyptians, Greeks, Romans and Phoenicians. Again and again, foreign settlers have settled on the island and brought their livestock. The ancestors of today’s wild horses probably came to the island around 2,800 years ago with the Phoenicians. In the Middle Ages they existed on the whole island, today the high plateau of the Giara di Gesturi is their last and only retreat.
“Cavellini“, little horse, the Italians call them. The Sardinian name is Is Quadeddus. “Small but strong!” say the Sardinians. They are considered stubborn and powerful. Until the middle of the last century, the wild herds were largely left alone, but again and again individual horses were captured for fieldwork, threshing and plowing. At the latest in the 60s they were replaced by combine harvester and tractors. That would almost have been her end. Animal rights activists have saved the last 200 horses. Today live again 500 to 600 on the Giara. The number varies with the feed supply in good and bad years. In 2017 there was an extreme drought. The flat lakes of the plateau, called Pauli, dried up completely. Dusty, vegetation-less deserts were left behind. Nothing else could grow again. There are quite a few springs and cattle drinkers on the Giara, so not the water, but the missing food was the biggest problem. The Cavellini were easy to find because they were constantly wandering in search of the last edible stalks.
At the beginning of October, people from the villages brought straw to the Giara to help the starving horses. Three days later it began to rain, and within a few days the first grass grew again.
In 2018 the situation was completely different. The summer was unusually rainy for Sardinia. The lakes were filled, some paths were completely under water. Green grass was abundant in November. The Cavellini looked healthy and round again. They have lived here for so long that they have become wild again and adapted to the extreme conditions. This time you had to look carefully to find them. There is no reason for them to leave a good pasture. One day on the Giara, I did not see a ponytail, hoofmarks or a horse’s apple. They just were not in the area. Somewhere else there was better food.
The Rangers, who are usually found at the entrance to the Giara, maintain a very relaxed communication style. “You want to find the wild horses? Well, they are wild animals, they do what they want. ” I already understood that. I think the Rangers definitely want to make it clear that the Giara is not a zoo, where animals are presented against entry, but an original habitat. “But where could they be now?” Such naive questions do not necessarily provide an answer.
But with some time and in the course of the conversation, that changes. Suddenly a map appears, the Ranger points to Pauli Majori, the largest lake. “They could be here, and if they don’t, go to the little lake here, they’re mostly there, but that’s never certain, they can be anywhere.” Now I even get a small, very rough map and very helpful and accurate directions to Pauli Majori.
Just outside the lake I heard a distant whinny. They were there! I knew from my visit the year before that the wild horses often graze with the cattle. So it was again. On the way along the shore of the lake I first came across a few feral cattle. The cattle always seem to have a guard who kept watching me. They are peaceful, at least as long as you move calmly and stay relaxed. The horns are warning enough. Further away from the lake, the horses grazed. They are usually organized in small family groups from 3 to 5. Horses and cattle graze together, but they each follow their own lead animals. Either the horses move together, or the cattle move a bit further.
The landscape is beautiful, but it is a rough, pristine beauty. The ground is covered with more or less large stones. The wind is so ubiquitous, that all trees that can not protect each other grow almost horizontally in the wind direction. There are a few small groves of cork oaks or holm oaks, which provide the trees with enough winch to grow reasonably straight. The vegetation is mostly low and dark green, in the hard light of the Giara it looks almost black. Evergreen oaks, rock roses, strawberry trees, Machia.
As a lasting impression remains the absolute silence, the radiant light, the wind that comes steadily, more or less strong, from one direction and the infinite sky with cloud formations that change several times within a minute. The Giara has its own colour palette with strong, clear colours that create harsh contrasts. The usual civilization noise is completely absent, even the mobile phone is mute for lack of network. In autumn you can hear a few birds, sometimes a horse neighing, somewhere in the distance. There are hardly any visitors in November. Anyone who comes to the Giara now looks for the peace and the company of the horses and will not disturb anyone. Sometimes you hear the bells of the goats and herds of sheep that graze up here and go around without people or dogs and look for their feeding places themselves.
But beware: You should carefully orient yourself in the area, take a guide or stick to the marked main roads. There are no major optical landmarks on the Giara off the trails. The two volcanoes that once formed the Giara are flat hills that barely protrude beyond the plateau. All around the country falls steeply into the plain, so the mountain ranges on the horizon are far away and barely visible.
Next time I will come back in May when the Giara is blooming. This is the best time for a photo workshop on the Giara and in the most beautiful corners of Sardinia. Horses and landscapes will play an important role. The details are here and at the end of this blog.
Peter and Susan Clotten from 28peaks.com have been organizing photo workshops around the world for many years. Horses are not the only but a common topic. That’s why I’m glad that I could win her for a workshop in Sardinia. After the scouting in November 2018 the program is available, the registration is unlocked. This workshop is a unique opportunity for unusual photos in some of the most beautiful and barely known corners of a fascinating island.
Sardinia, 12 – 20. May 2020,
9 days, 8 nights.
Day 1: Arrival
Arrival at Olbia airport and shuttle to the small town of Oliena, in the foothills of Monte Corrasi „the most beautiful mountain, God ever created“ (Salvatore Satta). From there we have to take a small, steep and very winding road up to our hotel. Dinner and accomodation at Albergo S’Enis Monte Maccione. (Halfboard) Driving time appr. 1:30.
Day 2: The Supramonte mountains
Photohiking in the surrounding mountains of Oliena, which is supposed to be one of the most beautiful villages in Sardinia. It’s nature, its archaeological and artistic sites are unique on the island. The impressive limestone mountains of the Supramonte shelter a moon-like landscape with important archaeological sites like cave-graves, menhirs and nuraghe (ancient megalithic buildings which can only be founnd on the island). Lunch, dinner, and accommodation at Albergo S’Enis Monte Maccione. (Fullboard)
Day 3: Bandits and rebels
Phototouring in the surrounding area of Oliena (Bitti, Orgosolo, Mamoiada, Nuoro etc…). The village of Orgosolo is famous for the murales, wallpaintings that can be found on many buildings in the village. And every place has its history and its own stories of bandits, freedom fighters and rebels – a spirit that is still alive on the island. Dinner and accommodation at Albergo S’Enis Monte Maccione. (Halfboard)
Day 4: The stud farm of Tanca Regia
In the morning editing with Charlotte. After lunch we will drive to Abassanta and have a photoshooting at the stud farm of Tanca Regia, a major breeding center for the Anglo-Arab-Sardas. The place Tanca Regia goes back to King Ferdinand of Spain, who established this stud farm in the 15th century. (Driving time appr. 1:00). After the shooting we will go on to Barumini/Gesturi, where we will check in at our hotel and have dinner. (Fullboard) Driving time appr. 1:30.
Day 5: Giara di Gesturi
First guided visit by a ranger to the Giara di Gesturi, a high plateau which we will reach after a short drive. The Giara extends about 16 square miles, most of it populated by cork oaks. The surface of the Giara di Gesturi has a number of shallow depressions, called paulis, some of which are deep enough to hold water year-round. It is home to the majority of the surviving population of the Giara horse. Accomodation and dinner at our hotel. (Fullboard)
Day 6: Wild horses
The light and the magic of the Giara reveals itsself best in the early morning, when you are all alone with nature. We will go up before sunrise to see the beautiful reflections of light in the shallow waters of the lakes. If we are lucky we will see bands of wild horses, some with their newborn foals. The origin of the Giara horse remains unclear. Most probably it descents from phoenician horses, mixed with barb horses. Research has still to be done. In the afternoon we will do a phototour to the surrounding villages, as Barumini, where we can see the „Su Nuraxi di Barumini“. The ruins are considered by scholars the most impressive expression of the Nuragic civilization. Accomodation and dinner at our hotel.
Day 7: Sassari
After breakfast we will leave for Sassari and check into our hotel Leonardo da Vinci. Driving time appr. 2:30. It’s the longest drive of the tour. In the afternoon we will have time to explore the old city. Sassari is a city rich in art, culture and history, and is well known for its palazzi, the Fountain of the Rosello, and its elegant neoclassical architecture, such as Piazza d’Italia (Italy Square) and the Teatro Civico (Civic Theatre). There are many cafés and restaurants to sit down and enjoy the atmosphere of a lively Italian city. Dinner at the hotel. (Halfboard)
Day 8: Cavalcade
It will be crowded in town! People from all over the island, but also from the mainland and from other European countries come to spend the weekend in Sassari to see the traditional Cavalcade. It lasts all day until late in the evening. The cavalcade is the biggest non-religious fair in Sardinia. On Sunday morning more than 3000 people and many horses take part in a parade with tradtional costumes. In the afternoon we will go the racecourse outside of town, where other parts of the fair take place. And of course we will enjoy the party that goes on all over the old city in the evening. (only breakfast)
Day 9: Departure
After breakfast we will leave for Olbia airport. According to your itinerary we will drop you off at the airport or in town. Driving time appr. 1:30. (only breakfast)