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Sardinian Cork

And now we touched the verge of the forest, rough with brakes of giant heaths, such underwood alternating with grassy glades wherever the woods opened. This part of the forest consists of an unbroken mass of primitive cork trees of great size. The rugged bark, the strangely-angular growth of the limbs, hung with grey lichens in fantastic combs, and the thick olive-green foliage almost excluding the light of heaven, with the roar of the wind through the trees,—for it was a dull, cold day, the coldest we spent in Sardinia,—with all this, a Scandinavian forest could not be more dreary and savage.

—from Rambles in the Islands of Corsica and Sardinia with Notices of their History, Antiquities, and Present Condition by Thomas Forester, pub. Longman, Brown, Green, Longmans, and Roberts. London. 1858.
Times have changed a bit since 1858, and you now have the comfort of small and winding (but paved!) roads from which to admire the cork forests of Sardina and ‘...the thick olive-green foliage almost excluding the light of heaven, with the roar of the wind through the trees...’. The forests are, however, still there, and, indeed, a newly harvested stand of cork trees with the lower trunks stripped bare presents a unique site. (The cork bark is harvested every nine years.)

Commercial cork comes from the Cork Oak (Quercus suber, photo, left). Half of the 340,000 tons of cork harvested worldwide comes from Portugal; Spain accounts for about 30% and Italy for 6%. Of the Italian prouduction, most of it comes from central and northern Sardinia.

Besides the familiar uses such as bottle-stoppers and sundry other commercial uses such as floor tiles, it should be noted that the great Neapolitan presepe tradition depends on Sardinian cork for the construction of those elaborate Christmas manger scenes. During the pre-Christmas rush, large quantities of sheet cork from Sardinia line the stalls of most shops on via San Gregorio Armeno in Naples.

The Sardinian "cork capital" is the small town of Calangianus in the province of Olbia-Tempio. It is a town lying on the granite high plains at 518 meters (c. 1500 feet) above sea level at the foot of Mt. Limbara. The town is on the Italian Legambiente's (Environmental League's) list of 100 comuni della piccola grande Italia (100 towns of little great Italy). That is, there are 8,000 incorporated towns and cities in Italy; 72% of them (i.e. 5,835 towns) have fewer than 5,000 inhabitants. Of those, 100 have been selected as particularly representative in maintaining Italian cultural traditions.

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