Sardinia (Italian: Sardegna, Sardinian: Sardigna or Sardinna) is an autonomous region of Italy and the second-largest island in the Mediterranean Sea (after Sicily) with an area of 24,090 km² (9,301.2 square miles) and over 1.65 million inhabitants. Its capital city is Cagliari.
Sardinia, which is separated in the north from Corsica by the Strait of Bonifacio. The region also includes Asinara, Caprera, San Pietro, and La Maddalena islands. Cagliari is the capital of Sardinia, which is divided into the provinces of Cagliari, Nuoro, Sassari, and Oristano (named for their capitals). Four more provinces (Olbia-Tempio, Ogliastra, Carbonia-Iglesias and Medio Campidano) have been created by the local government but, are not recognized by the Italian government.
The highest point of the mostly mountainous island is Mt. Gennargentu (6,016 ft/1,834 m). The main agricultural area is the large Campidano Plain, located in the southwest and watered by the Manno and Tirso rivers. The island has a Mediterranean climate, with hot, dry summers and very mild winters. Natural pastures cover more than half the area of Sardinia; sheep and goats are widely raised. Wheat, barley, grapes, olives, cork, and tobacco are produced on the island.
Sardinia's earliest inhabitants developed a trade in obsidian, a stone used for the production of the first rough tools, and this activity brought Sardinians into contact with most of the Mediterranean peoples.
From Neolithic times until the Roman Empire, the Nuragic civilization took shape on the island. Still today, more than 7,000 Nuraghe survive. It is speculated that the mysterious Shardana people landed in Sardinia coming from the eastern Mediterranean Sea, in about the 20th century BC. Very little is known about this people, whose name (which probably means "People of the Sea") has been found in some Egyptian inscriptions, and most hypotheses are developed following some linguistic studies; according to these, the town of Sardis in Lydia would have been their starting point from which they would have reached the Tyrrhenian Sea, dividing into what were to become the Sardinians and the Etruscans.
However most theories regarding the original population of Sardinia have been formulated prior to genetics research and in the traditional frame of east-west movements. Genetics has now shown that Sardinians are a pre-Indo-European population different from all surrounding and much younger groups. The density, extensiveness and mere size of the architectural remains from the 'Neolithic', pointing to a considerable population of the island, together with recent theories about the location of the Pillars of Hercules, reverse the question into where Sardinians did land, or where the Shardana settled besides the known Egyptian destination.
Beginning around 1000 BC, Phoenician mariners established several ports on the Sardinian coast. In 509 BC, war broke out between the native Nuragic people and the Phoenician settlers. The settlers called for help from Carthage, and the island became a province in the Carthaginian empire. In 238 BC, after being defeated by the Roman Republic during the First Punic War, Carthage ceded Sardinia to Rome.
From 456 - 534, Sardinia was a part of the short-lived kingdom of the Vandals in North Africa, until reconquered by the Byzantine emperor Justinian I. During this time a considerable amount of Germanic Vandals and Iranic Alans settled on the island. Under the Byzantines, the imperial representative was a judge who governed from the southern city of Caralis. Byzantine rule was practically nonexistent in the mountainous Barbagia region in the eastern part of the island, and an independent kingdom persisted there from the 6th through 9th centuries.
Beginning in the 8th century, Arabs and Berbers began raiding Sardinia. Especially after the conquering of Sicily in 832, the Byzantines were unable to effectively defend their most distant province, and the provincial judge assumed independent authority. To provide for local defense, he divided the island into four Giudicati, Gallura, Logudoro, Arborea, and Caralis. By 900, these districts had become four independent constitutional monarchies. At various times, these fell under the sway of Genoa and Pisa.
In 1323, the Kingdom of Aragon began a campaign to conquer Sardinia; the giudicato of Arborea successfully resisted this and for a time came to control nearly the entire island, but its last ruler Eleanor of Arborea, was eventually defeated by the Aragonese in the decisive Battle of Sanluri, June 30, 1409. The native population of the city of Alghero (S'Alighera in Sardinian, L'Alguer in Catalan) was expelled and the city repopulated by the Catalan invaders, whose descendants still speak Catalan. After the merge of the Kingdoms of Castile and Aragon, Sardinia was incorporated into the newly created national entity, Spain.
Sardinia became an independent vassal kingdom under the House of Savoy, the rulers of Piedmont, in 1718. Jean-Paul Marat, son of a Sardinian father and a Swiss mother, was one of the triumvirate leading the French Revolution in 1792. The Sardinians rebelled in 1793, demanding autonomy in exchange for helping to defeat French invasion forces. Autonomy was granted within the united kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia, but after the French threat to the kingdom lessened, the king reclaimed his authority. In 1847, the king Carlo Alberto, after a request by Sardinian parliament, ordered the 'perfect fusion' between Sardinia and his other continental States, thereby ending a five-century autonomy. In 1860, Vittorio Emanuele II, the King of Sardinia, also became the first King of a united Italy, after conquering the rest of the peninsula.
World War II saw Sardinia as the theater of minor activities. In 1947, Sardinia was declared an autonomous region with some special tax raising and cultural privileges. Sardinia was granted a constitutional autonomy in 1948, with its own regional Council, Government, and President.