S’Ardia, the wild horse race in Sedilo that takes places every 6th and 7th of July, never fails to attract thousands of visitors from Sardinia, Italy, and Europe.
Sedilo, a quiet village of some 2000 people in Oristano province in central Sardinia, holds every year one of the island’s most reckless festivals. While I’m not originally from Sedilo, my mother is, and so both her paternal and maternal sides of her family. This is why I could always sense their ardent devotion to this festival.
S’Ardia horse race in Sedilo, one of the most dangerous in Sardinia
Thousands of spectators stare in awe at S’Ardia horse race until the end, careless of the sun-drenched, dusty, hot, crowded sanctuary. It’s a wild, dangerous and suggestive race that sees some of the best riders of the island riding horses that don’t even seem fully tamed. Accidents are copious every year, more than one riders died during the run, and probably this overdose of adrenaline is what makes it a truly undying tradition and an unmissable annual date.
The main interpretation of this horse race in Sedilo is the commemoration of the Milvian Bridge battle that saw Emperor Constantine the Great defeat Maxentius between the 27th and the 28th of October 312 AD. The first three horse riders are the Emperor and his generals and the following three their guards carrying a wooden stick to chase the rest of the riders who embody the enemies away (and they do beat them heavily!). However, the festival is so ancient that its origins are lost in the mists of time. Very likely it was born as a pagan ritual later incorporated into the Catholic religion, similarly to most of our festivals.
The celebrations start in the church square with the priest’s blessing of the riders. Afterwards, the horse riders parade along Sedilo’s main street to the rural sanctuary of Saint Constantine some 2 km away preceded by a local folklore band and followed by the townspeople. The sanctuary rests on a tiny hill overlooking the beautiful Lake Omodeo. The small church is busy with pilgrims all year long, and this is largely visible inside where the walls are clothed with pictures and vows from faithful pilgrims asking the saint to heal, help and give assistance in any way.
How to enjoy Sedilo’s S’Ardia
First of all, the Ardia race is only one of the events of St. Constantine festival. For three days, from the 5th to the 7th of July, there are several religious functions both in the village and in the sanctuary, and countless preparations. All this is mainly prerogative of the locals and very intimate celebrations, while the Ardia is a wider event where everybody is welcome and where the main Sardinian TV channels are always present with their cameras placed in the best viewpoints.
There are two ways you can choose to see the horse race. It takes place around 7 pm, so you can either get to the sanctuary earlier in the afternoon and wait there for the horses, or you can start from the church and parade along with the riders. Both options have pros and cons. The first solutions will certainly give you the chance to pick a better spot when the crowd is not fully there yet, so the visual of the whole race will be more complete. But you will also have to spend hours under the sun, which, beginning of July in Sardinia, is pretty ruthless. Around the sanctuary, especially where you can have better views, there is no shade, so you will definitely need to wear a hat or create your shade in some way. And carry some fresh water since you will sweat a lot. There are several stalls and refreshing points, but again, if you move from your spot, you are unlikely to find it again. Plus, routes there are all uphill/downhill, not so pleasant to walk in the heat.
The other solution, to join the parade following the horses, will make you closer to the locals, get to know better the tradition and actively participate from the beginning. However, once you arrive to the sanctuary, you will have to find a place pretty quickly and obviously the most panoramic viewpoints will be taken. Plus, you will hear the organizers shout out loud to invite onlookers to find their spot and stick to it without changing position so that the fast and furious descent of the horses can begin.
Both experiences are enriching and fascinating, so it’s really up to you and how you would like to enjoy this traditional festival. Besides, if you really like it, you can always go back and see it from another perspective.
Where to sleep and eat in Sedilo
For this occasion, Sedilo, from a sleepy village in central Sardinia, becomes a lively loud town. Street stalls lined up all along the main road and selling everything from local sweets to kids’ toys make it a perfect gift shopping destination, while the evening concerts make the nights sleepless and exciting.
This is why, if you wish to enjoy the festival for all its duration or at least on the main day until late at night, you will probably want to sleep in Sedilo. Some of the accommodations you can choose from, and book much in advance, are B&B Catedda, B&B Lichitu or Domuspes if you prefer to rent an apartment. If you can’t find a room in Sedilo, you can look for accommodation in Ghilarza, a nice town some 13 km from Sedilo that has way more shops, services and also a few attractions to see. Among the accommodation options in Ghilarza are La Vallata B&B in Sardegna, B&B Perdalonga and B&B S’Arenada, while in adjacent Abbasanta village, you can book affordable places such as B&B Losa or Regia Hotel.
Food-wise, during the festival all around the sanctuary, you will find food stalls selling grilled fish and sausages as well as those selling sandwiches stuffed with grilled sausages. Slightly outside of the village but still in Sedilo’s territory is a very nice restaurant, Da Armando (località Talasai, link to Google Maps), with a nice view of the lake and where you can choose fish, meat and, only for dinner, pizza.
If you are staying in Ghilarza, you will find quite a few eating options, such as Al Marchi restaurant (Via della Concezione) in the city center in winter and Sas Mendulas in summer, Trattoria Pizzeria Buon Gusto (Via Cristoforo Colombo 34) facing the hospital, Valparaiso (Via Gennargentu), Ristorante e bar La Torre (Via Giacomo Matteotti 93).
Disclaimer: This year 2021, the Ardia horse race is not taking place for health safety reasons. Hopefully, everything will be running as normal from next year.