Sardinia: the Ziggurat and the Omphalos

With the discovery of copper, life for the Mediterranean Neolithic farming communities changed profoundly. The sacred art of metallurgy was seen as the ultimate gift of the Goddess and the blacksmith as the alchemist who could transform the precious stuff that came from deep within the Earth into something useful. In Sardinia, this cross over time from Neolithic farming to metallurgy brought with it a remarkable and unique development not seen anywhere else in the Mediterranean. The enigmatic sanctuary at Monte d’Accordi.

Menhir at Li Lolghi, Sardinia

Near modern day Porto Torres, close to a spring and surrounded by distant mountain peaks on the south side, an ancient terraced site resembling a ziggurat rises out of the Nurra plain. This area had long since been regarded as sacred, most likely due to its setting and vantage point, and menhirs and stellae decorated with symbols were previously laid out here. The use of menhirs, or baetyl, proliferated during the Ozieri period, reflecting a wider tradition that had started in the Levant (or possibly Egypt) thousands of year earlier and migrated all the way across to the British Isles.

Baetyls were considered to be the house of god/goddess. They at once embodied the sacred and marked a sacred site, so they were the earliest form of altars. Their erection and libation could have been part of an ancient ritual whereby new territory was made sacred, and that which was previously foreign and ‘outside of’ became part of the acceptable realm of operation.

Ziggurat at Monte d’Accoddi

Then in around 3000 BCE, at around the same time that ziggurats began to occur in Mesopotamia, a terraced altar was built with walls made from stones and filled in with earth. On top, which could only be accessed via a ramp, a rectangular temple made from limestone slabs was erected, and the floors of the temple were painted red with ochre so as to resemble menstrual blood. For this reason the structure has been named the Red Temple.

Later, a second layer was added and again truncated like a ziggurat, enlarging the structure and bringing the Red Temple closer to the sky and presumably making it even more sacred. On one side of the ramp is an altar made from a large sheet of granite with circular holes cut into the sides, and on the other a large free standing menhir that could predate the site. To the north of the ziggurat are a farther three small chapels used for votive offerings and another menhir with strange carvings possibly depicting the goddess.

Goddess stellae at Monte d’Accoddi

It has been suggested that the four corners of the ziggurat are aligned to the four carnival points. That and the fact that the views of the horizon are conveniently punctuated by distant mountains suggests that at least one of the functions of this extraordinary place was an astronomical observatory. A small incised stone found at the site is suggestive of tally marks and could record planetary or stellar movements.

The ziggurat is part of a larger cult centre surrounded by partially unexcavated smaller huts. One could have belonged to the shaman or high priestess of the sanctuary as a vase full of shells was found here. It is speculated that these were used as amulets with magical significance.

‘Omphalos’

Most intriguing of all is a large carved stone omphalos, a navel stone depicting a special type of sacred place considered to be at the very bond between heaven and earth. The stone is egg shaped and has been cut through deliberately with a curved line so that it resembles a crack. This strongly suggests that this omphalos could also be a primordial egg, a place of origin from which all things emerge, the equivalent to the Place of the First Time in Egyptian mythology.

‘Bond between Heaven and Earth’

All these elements suggest that Monte d’Accoddi was a place of supreme importance to the earliest Chalcolithic cultures of northern Sardinia, indeed that t his cult site could have once been considered to be the dwelling place of the Goddess herself. Statuettes with perforated arms and breasts have been found at the site, attributing to prevalence of a female deity. The power of the place stayed with me for days afterwards, and my dreams connected me with an ancient time now long since forgotten. I can only speculate as to the immense power of the site when used and activated in the way for which it was intended.

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