The town stands 9 m. above sea level on the northern Campidano plain, between the left bank of the lower Tirso River and the S. Giusta Lake, a few kilometres from the Gulf of Oristano. Founded in c. 1070 by the inhabitants of nearby Tharros, victims of Saracen raids, from the 13th-15th centuries Oristano was the chief town of the duchy of Arborea.
A centre of Sardinian resistance against the Aragonese, it finally lost its autonomy in 1477, declining in the centuries of Spanish domination. With the coming of the Savoys in 1718, however, its fortunes prospered, though troubled by rebellion and revolution of a populace attempting to abolish the feudal system. It is the most recently instituted provincial chief town (1974).
Its monuments include: the Duomo (13th century, reconstructed in 1743), with Romanesque and Gothic elements, the church of S. Chiara (partly Gothic), the church of S. Francesco (neo-classical), the church of the Carmine (Baroque, 18th century), the church of S. Martino (16th century), the Casa degli Arborea (16th century), the Torre di S. Cristoforo (13th century). In the neighbourhood are the Romanesque church of S. Giusta (12th century) and the archeological area of Tharros (a Punic-Roman city).
The economy of the town is based on flourishing agriculture, facilitated by irrigation of the surrounding fertile land with waters from the Tirso Dam. The crops include cereals, fruit, vegetables and sugar beet, for which the town is an important centre of distribution.
The service sector is highly developed especially after the recent elevation to chief provincial town status; however, the industrial sector has also progressed in the last few years and includes food manufacturing, engineering, construction materials, papermaking and chemicals. Traditional crafts (household crockery, pots, lacework) are still important, as are activities relating to fishery.
Events: La Sartiglia (Carnival equestrian event of Spanish origin).
Cultural Institutions: State Archives, Biblioteca Comunale, Antiquarium Arborense (archeological finds, paintings).
In the Province: Arborea (agricultural centre), Fordongianus (spa), Ghilarza (agricultural centre), S. Leonardo de Siete Fuentes (mineral waters), Sedilo (Ardia horse race, folklore, 6th-7th July), Mogoro (handmade rugs), Terralba (agricultural centre), Santa Caterina di Pittinuri (seaside resort), Bonarcado (Romanesque church of S. Maria, 12th-13th century).
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