History & Culture

The origins of the Carloforte community date back to 1738, when King Carlo Emanuele III of Savoy granted the island to a group of fishermen and traders from Pegli (near Genova, Liguria). The ancestors of the present-day Carlofortini came from the Tunisian island of Tabarka, where they had settled around the 16th century to collect coral for the Lomellini family of Pegli. From these ancient events arose the custom of calling the inhabitants of the island of San Pietro “Tabarchini” (as well as Carlofortini and Carolini), and “Tabarchino” their language, a local variant of that spoken in Pegli.


The statue of Charles Emmanuel III, affectionately known as 'Pittaneddu'.

After almost three centuries evidence of its African heritage can be said to have faded, leaving a lasting trace only in some gastronomic specialities such as cashcà (cous cous), and in some terms, such as the one that gives name to the Casséba district, derived from the Arabic Qasba. By contrast the attachment of the people of Carloforte to their Ligurian identity and roots is still very much alive today and is evident not only in the language, but also in the customs, authentic dishes, traditional costumes and architecture. And, above all, in the arts and crafts particular to the island, dedicated to seafaring: fishing – especially tuna – and travel, always travelling the world.

Precisely because of its historical and cultural links with Genoa, and with Pegli in particular, on 10 November 2004 Carloforte was recognised as an honorary municipality by the Province of Genoa and every year it holds twinning celebrations with Pegli; the town is also twinned with the Ligurian town of Camogli and with the Spanish city of Alicante.


Earliest history

The first traces of man’s presence on the island of San Pietro date back to prehistoric times: there are funeral remains dating back to around 3000 BC, discovered in a cave near Punta Nera, on the south eastern side of the island. There is evidence of the Nuragic period in four nuraghi (ancient megalithic edifices) built with freshly hewn trachyte blocks in the areas of Laveria, Bricco del Polpo, Lille and Sa Papassina. The latter, dating from the second half of the 2nd millennium B.C., has an interesting complex plan. The location of the nuraghi was designed to guard the stretch of the sea separating the island of San Pietro from that of Sant’Antioco and then from the Sardinian mainland.

The island was probably colonised by the Phoenicians from the 8th century BC. Excavations carried out near the Torre di San Vittorio have brought to light a section of fortified walls and the remains of a quadrangular building, as well as a small treasure of Punic bronze coins dating from the middle of the 3rd century BC.

Inside the town, between Via Salvo D’Acquisto and salita Giorgio Rombi, recent excavations have brought to light the remains of a Punic necropolis used between the 5th and 3rd centuries B.C., consisting of pit and chamber tombs: one of the most important archaeological sites on the island.
Traces of the Roman times are found from tombs located in different parts of the island. Among them, the necropolis site in the Spalmatore aera is the most important.

The name of the island in Roman times, Accipitrum insula, (i.e. ‘Island of the Sparrowhawks’) probably has a Semitic origin. The current name, according to tradition, derives from the apostle Peter who found refuge on these shores from a storm on his way from Africa to Rome.

Facades on Carloforte waterfront

Modern history

The cultural identity of Carloforte has its roots in the events experienced by the original community of fishermen and traders from Pegli, who left for Tabarka in the 16th century. The ancestors of the present-day Carlofortini settled and lived for a long period on the Tunisian island seeing their activities prosper and then witnessing their rapid decline. The depletion of the coral banks, to which a large part of the small community’s fortunes were linked, and the increasingly difficult relations with the local authorities led to a new migration. In 1738, some inhabitants of Tabarka, led by the mayor Agostino Tagliafico, applied to King Charles Emmanuel III of Savoy, asking to be given land on which to establish a centre for their trade with other Mediterranean cities. The request was granted, and the king signed a deed of feudalisation so that the present island of San Pietro (still called Accipitrum Insula at the time) could be granted to the community. In honour of the king himself, the town was named Carloforte (strong Carlo).

A new homeland

The difficulties of the period following settlement are in the historical memory of the people of Carloforte: epidemics decimated the newly arrived settlers, who had to engage in a long and arduous task of reclaiming the marshy and unhealthy areas of the island. Other settlers meanwhile arrived from Tabarka to help, and a few Ligurian families joined the island community. Among the reclaimed areas, the salt pans were of particular importance to the economy of the town. Agostino Tagliafico himself, in assessing the opportunities offered by the island he was about to colonise, had in 1737 carefully considered the advantages of salt production for his community. The activity would in fact accompany the life of the town for centuries to come, passing from the its technical beginnings, which were decidedly rudimentary, to its rational exploitation from the middle of the following century and, finally, to its mechanisation of production which is dated much closer to our times.

The ancient mining settlement of Capo Becco

The island of freedom

In the decades following the settlement, Carloforte had a complex history: in January 1793, after the break in diplomatic relations between the Piedmontese kingdom and the transalpine republic, the French landed on the island. Among this contingent was the revolutionary Filippo Buonarroti – animated by libertarian ideals inspired by Rousseau – who, together with the Carlofortines, drew up a new constitution for the Île de la Liberté, the Island of Liberty: it was the first republican constitution to appear on Italian soil. In 1796 Buonarroti testified to this while defending himself at the trial for the Babeuf conspiracy: “It was above all on the Island of San Pietro, later called the Island of Liberty, that I gathered the sweetest fruits of my preaching. The democratic constitution that its inhabitants gave themselves, whose provisions I helped them to draw up, is an eternal monument to their wisdom”. The presence of the French lasted only a few months, from January to May: enough for the revolutionary ideals of liberty, fraternity and equality to divide the population and lead to unrest and heated conflicts. With the arrival of spring, the small town returned to normal and the statue that had been erected in honour of the King, but had been buried during the troubled period, was returned to the square once again.

The Barbary invasion

Not many years after the French landing, the island was put to the sword by Barbary pirates for two days. After sacking the town, the attackers left, and took with them 950 people from Carloforte who were to be enslaved in Tunisia for five years from 1798 to 1803. The kidnapped islanders hoped for intercession by the great European powers, Pope Pius VI and above all the great Napoleon. In the meantime, the five years of their painful distance became fertile ground for the stories that u Paize (Carloforte) still tells today: the love of the American consul in Tunis, William Eaton, for the slave Anna Porcile, a matter of state for which President Jefferson himself had to intervene; the love of Sidi Mustafà, brother of the Bey of Tunis, for the beautiful Carloforte-born Francesca Rosso, who went from being a slave to becoming a princess with the name Jenet Lela Béia, and gave birth to Ahmed, the new Bey, known as the Sardo. The discovery of a wooden statue of a Madonna by a young slave, the safekeeping of the simulacrum (probably the lost figurehead of a ship) and its transfer to the island after liberation, shroud the dense web of stories that yearned for a miracle, thus passing down this story and clinging to features of what is now venerated by the people of Carloforte as the Madonna dello Schiavo. Carried in procession every year on 15 November, it keeps alive the memory of events of the past, as well as the devotion of the islanders.
For years to come, pirate raids would torment the small town before the problem was finally resolved throughout the Mediterranean. The watchtowers, forts and a few sections of the old walls in the upper part of the town remain as evidence of the fear provoked by the appearance of barbarian sails on the horizon.

Remains of the Punta Nera mine

Traces of carts on the old tracks

The 19th century and mining activities

For Carloforte the beginning of the nineteenth century was marked by some important news: in 1808 King Vittorio Emanuele I granted the small island town the title and privileges of City; three years later the Royal Customs was established. In the middle of the century several mining companies began to exploit the deposits of the nearby Sulcis: the town’s port – the only one on the south-western coast of Sardinia capable of receiving and dispatching ships loaded with ore to mainland industries – became of central importance and brought a long period of prosperity to the island. From the Sardinian coast the extracted ore – galena, or galanza in the local language – was loaded onto Carloforte boats by the galanzieri and taken to the island’s warehouses, then loaded onto large ships moored in the harbour. The port was a continuous swarming of lateen sails. The port environment of the Galanzieri was the place where the first trade union struggles were born and exceptional figures stood out, such as the Piedmontese Giuseppe Cavallera, a pioneer of socialism in Sardinia. In the decade after 1860, the demand for labour increased and many sailors arrived on the island from nearby Sardinia, as well as from Ponza, Ischia and other ports in Campania: it was their seafaring skills, among other things, that revived the island’s tradition of coral fishing, which had almost disappeared up to that time. At the beginning of the 20th century thanks to the importance assumed by the mining activities in Sulcis and Iglisiente, and those in full expansion being initiated on the island of San Pietro itself, Carloforte was the second port of call in Sardinia for maritime traffic and volume of goods transported.

The mines of the island of San Pietro

The new century added to the riches derived from the mining activities in south-western Sardinia, due to the exploitation of the yellow and red ochre and manganese deposits in the territory of Isola San Pietro itself. While the excavation activities mainly employed workers from the larger island, providing them with accommodation in the mining village of Becco, Carloforte entrepreneurs were primarily involved in the transport by sea of the minerals extracted from the deposits of Capo Rosso and Punta Becco to the dye works in Tuscany.
After the tragic setback of the First World War and the long period of self-sufficiency imposed by Fascism, the production of manganese in the island’s mines of Macchione, Bocchette, Cala Fico and Punta Nera resumed with new and more powerful methods. The maximum efficiency of the plants and the peak of productivity were reached in the years between 1938 and 1943; nevertheless already in the post-war period and by then not very profitable, the island’s mines were closed. In the meantime, a number of local workshops specialising in mining, such as Bernard, the future SACOM, or Meccanurgica, had been able to make a name for themselves beyond national borders. After many decades of work in Albania, Romania and Bulgaria, they ceased operations in the late 1960s and early 1980s. Some signs of their past activity can still be seen in the few remaining machines in the premises now occupied by the La Nave restaurant.

Santa Teresa Fort