The Province of Oristano is located in Sardinia's west. It borders Sassari Province to the north, Nuoro Province to the east, and the Provinces of Medio Campidano and Cagliari to the south. Its total surface are is 1,174 square miles and includes 88 municipalities.
The provincial terrain is varied: from the vast Campidano Plain (making up part of the Provinces of Medio Campidano, Carbonia-Iglesias and Cagliari) to the Monte Ferru Range, whose highest peak (Monte Urtigu) reaches 3,281 feet above sea level.
The Sinis Peninsula is also part of the province, boasting over 56 miles of coast, ranging from sandy beaches to calcareous cliffs and rocky bluffs. Two rivers cross the province: the Tirso, which opens to the Gulf of Oristano, and the Temo, the island's only waterway (and only partially-navigable).
Oristano Province comprises many protected areas, like the Monte Arci Regional Park, the Sinis Peninsula – Mal di Ventre Island Marine Protected Area, and the S’Archittu a Santa Caterina Natural Monument near Cuglieri. S'Archittu is a 49-ft-high natural arch carved by the erosion of the calcareous walls of what once was a grotto.
More than 6000 hectares' worth of wetlands cover the terrain around Oristano. The most famous is the Stagno di Cabras, considered one of the best-preserved wetlands of Europe. The area is home to several rare aquatic bird species, such as the red-crested pochard, purple heron, purple swamphen and Eurasian coot, in addition to fish varieties of seabass, eel and mullet (the eggs of which are used to make bottarga).
Highly-remarkable is the Stagno di Mistras, breeding ground for gulls and flamingos; the Stagno di Sale Porcus, now a protected area; and Is Benas, with its exquisite caniottu (a small seabream).
Finally, Lake Omodeo, an artificial basin named after the Milanese engineer that designed it in 1918-1924, serves for irrigation, electricity production and mitigation of flooding along the Tirso River.
Oristano, Capital of the homonymous Province, is teeming with monuments: among the most important are the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, erected in the 13th Century and remodeled in the Baroque style in the 18th Century; and the Church of San Francesco, housing a magnificent 15th-Century wooden Crucified Christ.
Piazza Eleonora bears a marble monument (1881) dedicated to Eleonora of Arborea, who led Oristano and wrote the Carta de Logu, considered one of the first constitutions of the world. Other important sights in the city include the Tower of Mariano II and the Arborense Antiquities Museum.
Near Oristano, passing Cabras and its noteworthy Civic Museum and moving towards the bay, one arrives at the 4th-Century Church of San Giovanni di Sinis - in the same-named village - and the beautiful Tharros Archaeological Site, an open-air museum holding the remains of a town founded by the Phoenicians in the 8th Century B.C. Remarkably, such remains lie atop the even older remains of a Nuragic village. One of the most interesting buildings is the tophet, a characteristic sanctuary of the Phoenician-Punic Civilization. Also here are the thermal baths, the temple foundations, and a section of houses and workshops.
Not far from Tharros is San Salvatore where, inside the Church of Cristo Salvatore is the Hypogeum of San Salvatore, a pagan temple of Nuragic origins linked to the cult of the water. Also noteworthy are the marvelous beaches of Is Autas, mainly composed of small quartz grains; Mari Ermi; and the spectacular cliffs of Su Tingiosu. The Island of Mal di Ventre is located 4.5 miles offshore and hosts rabbits, tortoises and reptiles: the island is part of the Sinis Peninsula Marine Protected Area.
South of Oristano, one will find two rather interesting villages: Santa Giusta, site of Phoenician and Roman remains, in addition to the 12th-Century Romanesque cathedral; and Arborea, with its Art Nouveau and neo-Gothic buildings. Exhibited inside the Palazzo Comunale is an archaeological collection, with Punic, Roman and late-Medieval finds, and components of the area's necropolises.
In the northwest of the province, about 15.5 mi from Oristano, lies Fordongianus, famous for its many prehistoric remains, as well as those from the Roman era (the aqueduct, the amphitheatre, a bridge, thermal baths and a few other structures). Just outside the village is the Church of San Lussorio, built in the 12th Century on a Paleo-Christian hypogeum where, according to the traditions, St. Luxorius was buried after being martyred Roman emperor Diocletian, during a time of persecutions, in 304 A.D.
In the nearby town of Ghilarza the Antonio Gramsci House-Museum is a window into the world of this the intellectual and politician, who lived here from 1898 to 1908. The area around Ghilarza also features two of the island’s most important prehistoric monuments: the Nuraghe Losa complex (losa in Sardinian means tomb) and the Santa Cristina Nuragic Sanctuary, with a famous sacred well.
Lastly, in the province's northwest, Bosa offers up its splendid monuments: among them, the Serravalle Castle, containing the Church of Nostra Signora de Regnos Altos; the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception; the Church of the Carmine and the Church of San Pietro Extra Muros, just outside the town walls.
The Monte Arci Regional Park offers unforgettable landscapes ideal for trekking, mountain biking and horseback riding excursions to discover the area's diverse flora and fauna: large Holm oak woods and vast expanses of maquis are inhabited by wild boars, foxes, wild cats, pine martens and weasels. Among the avifauna, noteworthy is the presence of wood pigeons, jays, hoopoes, hooded crows, peregrine falcons, sparrow hawks, goshawks, kestrels and lesser kestrels. The Monte Arci area is also included in Sardinia’s Environmental Historic Geo-Mineral Park.
The Province of Oristano comprises over 6,000 hectares of wetlands, a perfect place for birdwatching enthusiasts, where flamingos, purple herons, egrets, mallard ducks, purple swamphens and many other rare species breed. The Sinis Peninsula – Mal di Ventre Island Marine Protected Area is a paradise for snorkeling and scuba diving, as well as for fishing tourism, allowing tourists to experience a day in the life of a fisherman.
For those curious about traditions, the area hosts a series of folkloric events and festivals throughout the year. The most popular is the Sartiglia, a horse race of Medieval origins held in Oristano on the last Sunday and Tuesday before Lent. San Salvatore hosts the traditional Corsa degli Scalzi (the Barefoot Race) that gathers hundreds of people on the first Saturday of September. They dress only in a white frock, carrying a wooden statue of Jesus Christ from the village of Cabras to the Church of Cristo Salvatore.
Sedillo, on July 6-7 hosts the Ardia, a horse race to commemorate Constantine I, the Roman Emperor who defeated Massenzio in 312 (Massenzio had seized Rome in the battle of Ponte Milvio). Finally, in Marrubiu, the honey, cheese, sausage and wine festival (sagra), a great way to learn about and sample the local products, takes place on the first Sunday of September.
The traditional cuisine of Oristano Province combines both sea and agricultural components.
Try delicacies such as the fish of Cabras (seabrim, seabass and eel), prepared in several ways, or the merca, mullet boiled in salted water and wrapped in leaves. In high demand is the bottarga (salted, pressed and dried mullet eggs), either sliced or grated on a plate of spaghetti.
Among other delicacies are the bocconi (murex mollusks boiled in salted water), malloreddus all’oristanese (durum gnocchi served with spinach, beet, eggs and whip cream), gallina al mirto or myrtle hen (hen boiled with aromatic herbs and myrtle branches), su ghisau (a stew prepared with different types of meat), lamb and piglet.
As far as desserts are concerned, be sure to sample the mustazzolus, biscuits made with concentrated must, flour, yeast and sugar (the shape is that of a rhomboid, with glaze on top); the zippole, a long, brandy-flavored fritter, typical of Carnival and sold all over the island.
Noteworthy wines include the Arborea, Vernaccia di Oristano (a world-famous wine), Nuragus, Vermentin, Sangiovese, Semidano, Moscato and Bovale.