The name Palau can be traced back to the fourteenth century and its origin is most certainly in the Catalan “parar” which means repair or shelter: from here the term “parago” or “parao” used by fishermen to indicate the places along the coast which they considered safe and well repaired from the wind. It is clear that Palau takes its name from its geographical location.
Its known, since the times of Tolomeo, legend has it that Homer referred to this coast when, in describing Ulysses’ journey, he speaks of one of the landings in which his hero finds shelter from the heavy storms and where, it seems, he encounters the Lestrigoni, a people which practiced cannibalism. This legend discredits the Sardinians but, fortunately, in the times of Ulysses, the Nuragic civilization was already very advanced and, in this period, it had reached a considerable point in its social evolution. Testimonies of the development of this civilization are the Nuraghe Barrabisa, the Tomb of the Giants of Li Mizzani and the sacred area of Monti S’Ajacciu.
After the disappearance of the Nuragic civilization and the movement inland of the coastal populations to flee the Barbarians invading from the sea as well as malaria, which afflicted the lagoon areas of the coast, Palau remained uninhabited until 1700 when shepards descending the Liscia River during their annual winter migration, began taking their families with them. Between the end of the 1700s and the beginning of the 1800s, military events mark the history of Palau: the expulsion of Napoleon from the island of Santo Stefano in 1793, the presence of Admiral Nelson’s fleet in the Rada di Mezzo Schifo between 1803 and 1805 and, beginning in 1887, the scaling up of the defensive system of the military batteries of Monte Altura and of Capo d’Orso.
The development of the urban center of Palau took place only in 1875 when Giovan Domenico Fresi, known as Zecchino, built what was to be the first house of Palau’s city center. The building, extended and restored on different occasions, has become a symbol of contemporary Palau, hosting the tourist office and the public library. Zecchino built his home on the coast so he could watch over his land and put a dignified roof over his family. He certainly did not imagine that those lands, barely sufficient for pasturing, would one day be among the most expensive real estate of the entire island.
Palau began its life as a structured town in 1900 when, following the construction in 1880 of the bridge on the Liscia River, the town began to emerge from its isolation. The construction in 1908 of the Sassari-Tempio-Palau highway – which today can be experienced with the “trenino verde” (green train) – and the creation of the railroad in 1932, fed the growth of this small town which grew from a municipal division of Tempio Pausania to become in 1959 an independent municipality.