"Sa Giara Manna"
"Sa Giara Manna" - in Sardinian, "The Great Giara". This is the name used to distinguish the larger Giara - or plateau - of Gesturi from the smaller plateaux of Serri and Siddi. A high basalt plain of roughly triangular shape with a maximum length of 14km and a maximum width of 7km, the Giara covers an area of 43 kmē. It is situated in Central Southern Sardinia. The Giara covers land encompassing the districts of Gesturi, Genoni, Tuili and Setzu, all within the province of Cagliari.
Domus de janas The Giara is the result of volcanic activity - ancient lava floes which, once cooled, formed a protective barrier for the soft underlying rock. With the passing of time, the surrounding soft rock, without its shield of hard basalt, was eroded away, leaving exposed the Giara plateau which rises 500m above the surrounding countryside like a fortress. Today, the Giara is a precious and uncontaminated oasis, rich in archaeological and natural treasures of extraordinary importance and beauty.
The most famous inhabitants of the Giara are the miniature horses which are to be found only here. The origins of these small horses are shrouded in mystery. Archaeological remains suggest that the horse first arrived in Sardinia with the Phoenicians, or possibly the Greeks, around 1000BC. As such the species cannot be indigenous to the island. On the plateau of the Giara the horses have found their ideal habitat. Only here have they survived, having died out in the rest of Sardinia.
Cavallini della Giara
Characteristics and size: There are around 500 horses living on the Giara today. Despite an outward impression of tranquillity, in reality the horses are high spirited and bold, and are capable of releasing a surprising show of strength and resistance. In order to protect the horses, especially in the past, attempts were made to capture them. This was never an easy task, due not only to the terrain but also to the nature of the horses, and generally ended in failure. The horses of the Giara are smaller than their traditional cousins - they reach an average height of only 1.20m to the withers - but remain gracefully proportioned. The appearance is of a horse in miniature rather than a stocky pony. With thick, long manes and tails, the horses may have bay, chestnut, or more rarely, sorrel coats. A large head and sweet, almond-shaped eyes lend the horses a melancholy air.
Is Masonis
The horses of the Giara generally live in stable family groups which consist of one dominant male with seven or eight females and their foals. (However it is not uncommon to come across groups made up of stallions.) Each group occupies its own, well-defined territory. The dominant male of each family group will jealously protect his mares from the advances of other males. If, however the intruder is a fertile mare, the dominant male will generally accept her. Male foals, on reaching sexual maturity, will be evicted from the group. At around 15 - 20 years of age, the dominant stallion is replaced by a younger male, and will pass his final years as part of one of the groups of "single" males.
Shepherds have always grazed their flocks on the Giara. Even today there are still sheep, goats, cows and pigs to be found here. Although present in other parts of Sardinia, the larger wild herbivores such as the Sardinian deer, the moufflon and fallow deer are absent from the plateau. The Sardinian wild cat and the marten, rare and fascinating species, also live here. In 1992 the Giara was deemed a protected area, and since then there has been a total ban on hunting. 93 species of vertebrate live on the Giara - 50% of the total number to be found in Sardinia. In addition there are 14 species of mammal, 11 species of reptile, 64 species of bird and 4 species of amphibian.
· Amongst the mammals to be found here are the Sardinian fox and the Sardinian wild boar, whose numbers are increasing dramatically.
· Amongst the reptiles is the keeled lizard which is a species indigenous to only Sardinia and Corsica.
· The birds of the Giara include the nightjar, the greater spotted woodpecker, the buzzard and the raven, as well as a myriad of marsh-loving birds.
· The amphibians to be found here include the Sardinian "discoglosso" - which is to be found only here and in the neighbouring island of Corsica.
The numerous marshes which are dotted around the plateau are home to two animals considered to be true "living fossils" - the Lepidurus apus and the Triops cancriformis. These two crustaceans have not evolved in 200 million years and are all but extinct in the whole Mediterranean.