Necropolis and Acropolis
THE IS PIRIXEDDUS NECROPOLIS
If the funerary testimonies of the Phoenician Sulky are quite poor due to the overlapping of the modern town, their monumentality and extension during the Punic period reveal very well the prosperity of the settlement since the 6th century BC.
In these centuries, the living spaces keep developing behind the coastal area, fundamental for the economic activities of the site. They were enclosed to the West and South by a huge funerary system. The area at the moment of his greatest development probably had an extension of 10 hectares and included more than a thousand hypogea. Currently, we know about three sectors, some of them perhaps progressively united in ancient times.
One of them was located under St. Antioco Martyr Basilica and reused as a catacomb complex. The second one was placed on the western side of the Castle hill and readjusted for housing purposes from the inhabitants of the modern Sant’Antioco. The third sector is located in the Is Pirixeddus area, subtracted from contemporary urbanisation. It is from the latter that most of our knowledge about the Sulcis Punic Necropolis comes, thanks to the more than 50 hypogea. In Roman times the urban planning had to partially retrace the previous one: the eastern slope of the hill continues to represent the living centre but, besides the Necropolis of Is Pirixeddus itself, other funerary units have been identified in different areas of the current town with a wide extension towards South.
The hypogea are dug underground rooms with a disposition and orientation following the natural shape of the rock. Rectangular gaps obtained in the light grey rhyolite leads to high dromoi, “corridors” with stairs descending the underground burial chamber, fulcrum of the rite of passage. The hypogeous room was usually a squared or trapezoidal chamber, structured as a single area or provided with a partition or a central pillar that divides the room into two big and separate areas. The walls were usually provided with rectangular recesses, rarely with peculiar architectural articulations, with dug in the rock coffins or unusual multiple rooms.
The deceased was lowered into the room and put on a coffin or a simple wooden board, accompanied by the objects that would lead him to the afterlife through the rite.
At the end of the deposition ceremony, the chamber was usually sealed with a stone door or with mud bricks so that it could be regularly reopened. Outside of the sepulchrum, post mortem rituals were celebrated through the break of ointment pots or double paterae, probably to attenuate the death exalations. The hypogea could host a variable number of individuals, coming from familiar groups or socially bonded, buried there for many generations with a constant use of the burial chambers along the centuries.
The Acropolis of Sant’Antioco is an area on the edge of the old town. Occupied by a Nuragic complex during the Bronze and the early Iron age, it was reused for funerary purposes in the Punic period.
A religious function was first hypothesized for a building, perhaps of Punic origin, situated under the Savoy Fort, later it was interpreted as a tower. Between the Roman Repubblican age and the early Imperial age (probably 2nd century BC – 1st century AD) the area was affected by the presence of a place of worship, partially uncovered from the 1950s.
It is possible to observe two flanked quadrangular spaces of the building in the high part, one is characterised by a modern dirt road, and the second is underlying, partially colonnaded. Probably the colonnade surrounded the most elevated sacred space on three sides, for this reason it was defined like a pseudo-periptero sine postico temple, which gives this area, located in a controlling position on the lagoon, monumentality.
It was accessed from East by a system of ramps to which belong the lion statues rediscovered in the amphitheatre area. The floor of the colonnade presents a decorated opus signinum, with regular dots and white lozenges. Under and near it there are two important water structures: a cistern “a bagnarola”, under the floor, and another one “bottle-shaped”, entirely carved in the rock. The temple construction is due to the economic and cultural prosperity of the town in the period of the Italic mercatores, merchants of Latium origin and bearers of the new architectural models of Roman origin.