The small town of Palau is set between Capo d’Orso and Punta Sardegna. A small village at the beginning of the 18th century, it became a small town with more than 4000 inhabitants and schools, offices and various commercial activities, many of them in some way related to tourism. Palau became an autonomous municipality in 1959. It is an important crossroads of passenger and cargo traffic. Palau is connected to La Maddalena by ferries 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It is also a departure port for excursions to La Maddalena archipelago. In 1929 Palau became an important train terminal for the Little Green Train that travels along the Sassari – Tempio Pausania – Palau line, affording passenger views of the beautiful Gallura region.
Several hypothesis on the origin of the name
There are several hypothesis on the origin of the name of the town: according to some oral sources Palau derives from palude, which means wet lands. In Catalan, Palau means palace and in the Gallura region the word Palau means water tank. What is important is not to confuse Palau in Sardinia with the archipelago of Palau in the Pacific Ocean with its more than 200 islets and atolls.
1875: from the founding up to today
The area of Palau was already inhabited during the Nuragic period. Later on the population moved inland to escape the marauding incursions of pirates from the sea and the mosquito born killer, malaria. The first shepherds re-inhabited Palau and surroundings more or less in the 18th century. Officially the town was founded in 1875 when Giovanni Domenico Fresi built the first house on the site of what is now the town. Today Fresi’s house is the municipal Library and Tourist information centre, we can also find a small ethnographic museum on the main street of the town.
The real boom for Palau started in the 1960’s with the development of the tourism industry. There are several very interesting historical sites to visit, for example the Nuraghe Barrabisa and the Li Mizzani Giants‘ Tombs, both dating from the Nuragic period. On the outskirts of Palau we find Monte Altura, a fortress built as a part of the extensive defensive system of La Maddalena. At the end of the 19th century when it was built it was considered one of the most attractive military buildings in Europe.
The beaches all around Palau are rightly considered beautiful. We can mention for example Faraglioni beach or Porto Pollo beach which is the unmissable destination for devotees of wind and kite surfing. La Sciumara beach separates Palau from Porto Rafael and its name means estuary in the Gallura language. Apart from its beauty, the beach is also famous for the sad end of the Italian navy cruiser Trieste, which sank here in April 1943 after taking many direct hits from aircraft during an Allied bombing raid. The wreck was subsequently sold to Spain and later scrapped.
Mezzo Schifo Bay: a sea of History
In the bay called Mezzo Schifo situated between Palau and Porto Rafael and in front of La Sciumara beach on our left hand side, Admiral Horatio Nelson anchored from 1803 to 1805. The bay is sheltered and has an excellent strategic position. It is called also the Nelson’s Bay due to the numerous British sailors and soldiers (probably more than 3000) involved in military exercises and hunting trips during those years. 750 men of the Victory’s crew equalled almost a half of the population of La Maddalena. Legend has it that Admiral Nelson never left his ship, possibly as he was afraid of contracting malaria, maybe because he kept himself ready to set sail at a moment’s notice. In any case, there is no doubt that he maintained good relationships with some locals, especially with the commander of the La Maddalena port, Agostino Millelire, who often visited the Admiral on board his legendary ship Victory.