Meet the beautiful wild horses of the Giara Plateau

Mara Noveni | Live the World

November 23, 2022

The Giara Plateau, or "Giara di Gesturi", is known above all as the place to meet the beautiful wild horses, which are among the last wild horses in Europe. But it is also a place to get lost in nature, in the scents of the Mediterranean scrub, meet different types of animals and observe many vegetal species. Spending a day in this special place allows you to forget the rush, the chaos and recover an almost forgotten relationship with yourself and the environment. Everything here is perfect, from the life scenarios to the splendid views, to the crisp and fresh air - the right ingredients to enjoy a fabulous relaxation.

The Giara Plateau is located in southern Sardinia, about 50 kilometers from Cagliari, between the areas of Marmilla and Sarcidano. Since 1995, this site has been recognized as a SIC area (Site of Community Importance), for the favorable conservation status of the natural habitat.

© Aureliano Congiu

Origin of the plateau

The Italian name Giara and the Sardinian name Jara indicate plateaus of basaltic formation with flat characteristics. The plateau has an average height of about 550 meters above sea level and extends for about 45 square kilometers, with a trapezoidal shape. Over the millennia, a light layer of earth, no more than 50 cm deep, has deposited over the basaltic surface, on which Mediterranean vegetation has developed.

© Aureliano Congiu

Man has shown his appreciation for this place, leaving traces of its presence since the Neolithic period (6000 - 2700 BC). Numerous are the findings from Domus de Janas (caves carved into the rock and used as tombs) on the slopes of the plateau. During our walk, we will have a very good chance of finding bits of obsidian stone used to make the tips of hunting arrows. Further confirmation of life above the plateau occurs in the last phase of the Copper Age with the proto-nuraghe Bruncu Madugui, located on the edge of the plateau, above Gesturi, Barumini and Tuili.

There are also some nuragic towers located on the edges of the plateau, used as lookout points, and probably belonging to the great Barumini nuraghe, "Su Nuraxi", not far from the Giara.

The little horses of the Giara and other animals

Of all the mammals living on the Giara, the "Cavallino della Giara", Equus caballus giarae, is the best known. Since there are no equine fossil finds in Sardinia, it is thought that the horse was introduced to this region in the Nuragic or Punic period.

The only area of Sardinia where these little horses now live in the wild is precisely the Giara Plateau. They are characteristic for their small stature and the black or dark bay coat, with very long manes and tails. They have adapted to the very particular environment of the Giara, which has an abundance of food and water during winter and spring and scarcity during the summer and autumn. In fact, during the winter, the natural valleys present on the plateau, called Paulis, are filled with rainwater and become a water reserve until summer. In spring, about 60 Paulis are covered with a layer of white aquatic buttercups (Ranunculus aquatilis), of which the little horses are greedy.

© Mara Noveni

The little horses have a rather shy character and live a reserved life inside the park. But if during our visit we decide to stay on the edge of one of the great Paulis, we will have a very good chance of seeing entire families of horses grazing peacefully eating buttercups on the surface of the water. When the Paulis are dry up during the summer, some springs above the plateau ensure the water for the animals.

In addition to the horses, the Giara is inhabited by wild boars, foxes, hedgehogs, rabbits, hares, wild cats and many others, and many species of birds that live or transit depending on the period, such as hawks and buzzards, the red woodpecker, the storks and the knights of Italy. A separate mention deserves the "lepidurus apus Lubbocki", a very small archaic crustacean, which has remained unchanged for 200 million years and lives in the Paulis.

© Aureliano Congiu

The vegetation of the Giara

As already mentioned, the Giara currently presents all the aspects of a typical Mediterranean area. There are various types of characteristic plants, such as cork oaks, holm oaks, and an infinity of fragrant plants, such as myrtle, helichrysum and strawberry tree.

During the spring period, the whole landscape is filled with indescribable colors and scents. During the excursions, it is possible to observe plateaus of cistus in bloom, wild cyclamen or wild orchids, violets and wild saffron, up to the Paulis, where the blossoming white buttercups form a candid mantle. More than 350 plant species have been recognized on the Giara plateau, some rare such as Morisia Monantha, a very small perennial plant that blooms from January to April with golden yellow flowers. Morisia is also the name of the botanical garden of Giara Park, where you can see the most characteristic botanical species of the plateau, such as beautiful wild orchids.

© Mara Noveni

Tips to visit the Giara Plateau

The Giara Plateau can be visited all days, and at a moderate price, it is possible to book a guided tour with an expert naturalist guide, Roberto Sanna, very prepared and really kind, who will accompany you on a journey through time in the wild and untouched Sardinia. He knows this place so well that he can give any information and answer any question. He is a lover of nature, so experienced that the sighting of horses is almost guaranteed by going with him. It is also possible to book a horseback ride, which lasts about an hour, and which brings you even closer to nature. You can also take advantage of the bicycles, which can be rented on-site.

At the starting point for the excursion, there is a refreshment point with a shop, where you can taste delicious platters of local cured meats and cheeses, accompanied with excellent wines, or where you can buy typical products to take home. Alternatively, you can bring food from home and take advantage of the picnic area, where it is also possible to have a barbecue.

© Mara Noveni

A visit to the surroundings

The Giara Plateau is located in a strategic junction from a tourist point of view, as there are many sites to visit in the surrounding area, such as:

  • Barumini, with its "Su Nuraxi" nuraghe, a world heritage site for its historical importance, and the new museum complex of Casa Zapata;
  • Parco Sardegna in Miniature, where some of the most interesting monuments of Sardinia are reproduced to scale, the Nuragic Pavilion, the planetarium to make an imaginary journey into space, the Dinosaur Park, and the Nature Park;
  • Tuili, with a visit to its beautiful historical center, the Church of San Pietro and the museum of Villa Asquer;
  • Giardino di Turri, a piece of the Netherlands in Sardinia, where you can find a beautiful Tulip Garden;

After a day spent in nature to meet the beautiful wild horses of the Giara Plateau, you will return home tired but with a thousand scents in your nose. Your eyes will capture a thousand colors of an experience not to be missed and perhaps repeat in different periods of the year. The Giara Plateau in southern Sardinia and its wonders await you!

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