Furriai in Sardinian means to return or to come home and, to that point, a furriadroxu was the place that welcomed home all the members of an extended family at the end of their day. Much of the culture in Sardinia is based around shepherding, which is a notoriously solitary activity. So most men would be out all alone with their goats or sheep or cows for at least a full day and sometimes longer. But the furriadroxu was full of action, with kids (from 7-12 in each family), pigs and chickens running around in the courtyards and multiple families all crowded in to the same kitchen.
Depending on what materials were available at the time, the buildings could be constructed from mud bricks (ladiri), and/or stones. (Sulcis has a notoriously rocky terrain and even today the simple plowing of a field can turn up enough boulders for a decent sized structure.) Roofs were built using large juniper, wild olive or oak trunks as beams, which were lined with river canes and topped with terracotta tiles. The flooring could either be in colorful cementite tiles in repetitive patterns - if the family had money to buy them - or more basic black, red and gray squares. The next step down was a flat cement floor, which they would decorate using the tines of a fork. Another trick was to lay down a wet dirt floor and use a tautly held string to make crisscross patterns, emulating the look from a true tile floor. And the poorest houses would have a floor made from plain packed dirt. So each furriadroxu is a completely unique creation. These farmers weren't using architects; they were building and adding on and transforming based on what they had on hand and what the family dynamic was. One brother's wife didn't get along with her sister-in-law? Then they would take a piece of land on the opposite side of the house and start building there. Every one of these houses has its own story built into it, including the interpersonal relationships, the rise and fall of the family's economy, the genealogical tree as it grew. If a family had money at one point to buy tiles they would, but the next room over might have a cement floor. Some structures have sections dating back to the 1600's and were inhabited continuously through the 1960's, so 300 years of family history are documented in the few cinder blocks incorporated into an ancient stone wall.
As more and more people joined the family, the furriadroxu would become more independent, adding on more elements that could provide for its growing population. Most all of the surviving furriadroxu have sa lolla, an outdoor loggia which serves as an extension of the kitchen (for storage, food prep and eating in large groups). Bigger ones also have a wood-fired oven, which was used by the women for bread-baking and various stables for animals (sheep, pigs or cows). It became eventually a micro-world in and of itself, with a general economic independence from the surrounding towns.
But the truly fascinating thing about the furriadroxu is the sheer number of disintegrating farmhouses that can be found in the area. Living as they do in the poorest province in all of Italy, most families don't have the resources to rebuild these historical timepieces. However a family's pride is worth more than her wallet, and even the most overworked and impoverished farmer would be hard-pressed to consider selling the family estate. Motivated by our love for decadence and our curiosity, we're as hard-headed as any Sardinian farmer and if we can't buy and restore them, we can at least document them.
*Update: In October of 2015, we were finally able to purchase an abandoned furriadroxu from a sprawling group of heirs in which we have built our own home.