Olbia Happy City

Our fellow citizens have always known that Olbia means happy city.

What perhaps not everyone knows is that the meaning of the Greek word olbios (ὄλβιος) is a bit more articulate and that never before has it fit well with the character this city is taking on (or perhaps finding again).
While searching the web for the exact meaning, I came across a very interesting definition thanks to an article in the Greek newspaper Kathimerini, actually on the international English-language edition distributed together with the New York Times of which I am a subscriber.

I quote it:
Olbios in Ancient Greek means the person who is happy, fortunate and blessed, and is perhaps the most apt term to describe people all over the world who donate their time and effort to good causes.

That is, “Olbios in ancient Greek means a person who is happy, fortunate and blessed by the gods, and this is perhaps the most appropriate term to describe people everywhere who donate their time and volunteer themselves for good causes.”

The first part is what interests us, but the second part as we shall see also makes sense when talking about this town in northeastern Sardinia.

The Origins, The Myth

The particular geographical layout, between two rivers, at the bottom of a long, narrow fiord that widens into a vast lagoon, made Olbia the ideal place for human settlement, and so indeed it was.

The date of the city’s founding is not certain. Findings show us that the territory of Olbia has been inhabited since very ancient times, evidenced by archaeological sites from the Neolithic and Nuragic periods.
It is estimated that the settlement that has come down to the present day originated in the 8th century B.C. by Phoenician merchants. They built an area that today roughly corresponds from the current historic center to the sea
Out of all the names that over time this city took on, missing from memory is the one given to it by the Phoenicians who most likely founded it.
There are some very cautious assumptions in this regard that we will not report here, but refer to the bibliographical references for those who wish to investigate further.
Myth, however, identifies the founder of the city with a Greek, named Iolaus from which comes the tradition of giving the city its Greek name.

We know that Olbia became Greek around the 7th century, but that it certainly had a much more ancient history behind it. There were pre-existing indigenous peoples of Nuragic origin, with whom the Phoenicians amalgamated. A phenomenon that happened in other cities in Sardinia of the same era and has happened several times in the history of this city.

In the nearly thirty centuries of its life Olbia has thus changed many names. The first one as mentioned above is not known, it was later succeeded by OLBIA in Greek and was also maintained in Punic and Roman times. The city took the name FAUSANIA during the early Middle Ages. It changed again: CIVITA from the year one thousand and finally from the ‘fourteenth century it became TERRANOVA. It kept this name until the last century when in 1939 finally, the city resumed its ancient name of Olbia.

So Much History And Vicissitudes

Such an ancient city cannot fail to have scars, and Olbia is no exception. Whenever one digs, especially in the historic center, as in the surrounding countryside, it is common to come across traces of the past.
Olbia has been destroyed several times, and its population during these painful episodes, left the central area and moved to safer areas.
It happened during the Punic Wars, then with the Vandal invasion in the 5th century. This was followed by a long period of stagnation that lasted until almost the year 1000. There was a revival in the 12th century and then again with devastation with pirate raids in the 1500s. There was the plague, and lastly the bombings of World War II that razed much of the city to the ground.

Yet, even with difficulty, Olbia has picked itself up and resumed living. Even very recently we had to roll up our sleeves after the disastrous (also in terms of human lives) flood of 2013 due to Cyclone Cleopatra.
We were saying that also the second part of the definition is also very appropriate for our city. Olbia has for many years been at the top of national rankings in terms of civic commitment, understood as volunteering and helping people in need.
There must be something in the character of this city that to some extent makes it special. Some of the untamed character of Heracles, whose second-century Roman statue was found (only the head), in the sea in front of the city.
Heracles’ head today is kept in the archaeological museum, a must-see for those who want to learn about the history of the city (but also of ancient Sardinia).


Today Olbia is the fourth largest city in Sardinia in terms of number of residents, and its demographic expansion seems unstoppable. In a regional context in which the population is essentially stable, the Gallura capital is experiencing an authentic explosion that has been going on for several years.
Olbia currently has over 60,000 residents, but a whole range of indicators suggest to us that the number is much higher.

Among the aspects that most give the idea of an expanding city is undoubtedly the multi-ethnic trait of the city. It is evident when taking a walk in Fausto Noce Park, where Olbia residents go for a run, or at the entrance to schools when mothers bring their children. At the beach or in the malls and shopping streets around Corso Umberto.
The diversity in clothing styles and if you notice the voices speaking in so many different languages, give the dimension of the great variety of cultures and backgrounds that populate today, as in the past, this town. Remarkable then is how there are no tensions associated with this multi-ethnic vibrancy and indeed it is a quiet and very safe town.

Only thirty years ago Olbia was much more homogeneous even though it was already a city of immigration anyway. It has always been said how rare it is to find an Olbiese whose family has been in town for many generations. Another peculiarity compared to the surrounding Gallura municipalities is that a variant of Logudorese is traditionally spoken here in Olbia. In this, too, Olbia is different: an enclave with compared to the rest of Gallura, a case similar to that of Luras. Since the birth of the Costa Smeralda in the 1960s, growth, also demographically, has greatly affected Olbia’s lifestyle and social structure. Only in the very last few perhaps, however, has tourism really been fully understood and embraced as a factor in development. Older Olbia residents will recall how Olbia was then only a gateway to Sardinia but then few stayed in town. Instead, for the past few years we have been witnessing an increase in tourists choosing Olbia as a vacation destination and then as a base for daily trips to other locations.


The Growth

Olbia has had an international airport since the 1960s. The air terminal was commissioned by H.H. Prince Karim Aga Khan IV at the same time as the launch of the Costa Smeralda, whose name it bears.

Today, this structure plays a very influential role in city life, both as an economic driver and number of
employed, and as a place of culture and connection with the rest of the world.

Recent work to lengthen the runway, now allows for wide-ranging operations, and the numbers have been growing steadily for about two decades, which is why the expansion was necessary.

Similar discussion for the port, which has also had a stable flow of cruise passengers for a few years now. Arrivals that have been somewhat interrupted only in the last year due to the COVID19 pandemic. The flow of cruise passengers in the port of Olbia, however, is certainly destined to resume in volume with the return to normality.

A further sign of the city’s growth and maturation was the opening of the School of Tourism Economics and Management. At the moment the branch, twinned from the University of Sassari, is located at L’Aeroporto Costa Smeralda, but is set to move to the historic center.
This summer saw the new arrangement of the waterfront, from the southern arm of the inner gulf to Brin Pier. A remarkable job that has transformed the waterfront into a pedestrian and bicycle island.
These transformations did not miss to be noticed by those entering Olbia as tourists, perhaps on their way to other locations. The increasement of the number of beds, but especially the very lively real estate market testifies that people also come here to live.

A Happy Place Where To Move In

In Olbia almost no one is of Olbia origins. We tell ourselves this often, and this is one of the typical traits of many large cities, it is the trademark of a vibrant place where people come and according to the numbers, then stay.
It is not hard to see why; living in Olbia means being in a pretty, quiet city with a nice climate, great connections with the world, a beautiful sea, and a modern lifestyle.

“Why Olbia, behind the port, had opened a luong.”

— Beppe Severgnini, Tourism Call2Action , Olbia Airport


This sentence by Beppe Severgnini was point no. 6 of the 20 + 20 reasons to love Sardinia, part of a speech at the Sardinia Tourism Call2Action. This was a cycle of seminars on tourism organised by the University, Olbia Airport and the Department of Tourism of the Sardinian Region. The well-known journalist, who is also a great lover of Sardinia, spends long periods in Gallura (near
Santa Teresa).

Olbia City To Live

Summer 2021 was special in many respects. In particular the containment of the COVID19 epidemic restored some confidence to the world of tourism and we saw numbers like only in the best years. Many operators were almost displaced by an unexpected season, even having difficulty finding staff. A bumper summer, in short, and one that will hopefully be repeated in the years to come.

In the city, we noticed that tourists appreciated the new face of Olbia by experiencing the urban spaces in a manner quite unusual for us, at least for now.
We saw families and groups of friends picnicking or resting in the shade on the lawns and under the trees in the park in front of City Hall. A very common practice in big cities but not seen by us. We saw tourists on the waterfront dive into the water and use the ladders and then return to sunbathe on the wooden walkways.

One thing that had not been seen for at least fifty years were the umbrellas on the beach of Mogadiscio. This patch of sand was once the town beach, and no Olbiese has used it for decades because of pollution in the inner gulf. But tourists this summer discovered and frequented it.
Movida in the streets of the historic center, now a pedestrian area, has become a constant and not only during the three summer months.
Thanks also to the frequent sports or cultural events, especially music, there is a continuous flow of visitors that gives that international breath and sense of a cosmopolitan city like nowhere else in Sardinia.
In these two pandemic years, a lot has changed in the way we live and work. The idea has begun to take shape that it is possible to live and work in a quieter, less crowded place with a nice climate and quality leisure time.
The idea of living in a place where there are good standard services and you can go to work by foot or by bike. A small town where there is sunshine for more than three hundred days a year and in half an hour by car you can go for a trip to the woods or mountains. From Olbia, an hour by plane takes you to any capital of Europe, but in five minutes you are on the beach for a sunset aperitif.

Olbia is this place, and many are realizing it.


• One meaning for the word olbios:

• Only Sardinia Autonoleggio all’aeroporto di Olbia Costa Smeralda (collegamento): https://www.only-sardinia.com/en/olbia-airport-2/

• Olbia Tourist City (link): https://www.only-sardinia.com/en/olbia-touristic-city/