Alberobello, Architecture, Bandiera Arancione, Italian history, Italy travel tips, Puglia, Rione Aja Piccola, Rione Monti, Southern Italy, Trulli, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Val d'Itria, Vernacular architecture, Zona dei Trulli
As the car nears Alberobello, trulli (TROOL•lee) start to appear in the rural landscape and my imagination goes into overtime. I hear the tune ‘La-la-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la-la’ in my head and I expect i Puffi (the Smurfs) to start dancing around the whitewashed trulli! Too much midday Pugliese sun maybe? Trulli are traditional limestone houses unique to the Val d’Itria in Southern Puglia. They were built ‘a secco’, which means dry-without mortar. Trulli have domed cone-shaped roofs built up of overlapping chiancharelle (kyan•ka•REL•leh)-grey limestone slabs. On the capstone at the top is a decorative pinnacolo (pinnacle). The shape of the pinnacolo is said to be a signature of the stonemason who built it. Some roofs also have mythologic or religious symbols painted on them.
The ‘Zona dei Trulli’ includes the areas around Locorotondo, Fasano, Cisternino, Martina Franca, Ceglie Massapica and the largest concentration of 1,620 trulli in Alberobello. Alberobello and its trulli are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. UNESCO believe Alberobello is an exceptional example of the survival of prehistoric building techniques that are still in use. The fact that the buildings are so well-preserved and still occupied make the site unique.
The word trullo comes from tholos (τρούλος) a variation of the Greek word for cupola or dome. There were already scattered trulli settlements in the Val d’Itria around the year 1000. These gradually grew into villages, later called Aja Piccola and Monti-the 2 trulli districts in Alberobello today. The oldest trulli we know of date back to about 1350 when the Counts Acquaviva of Conversano were given land for their service during the Crusades and colonized the area by moving people from their nearby areas.
Tradition has it that building ‘a secco’ was imposed on the settlers so their houses could be dismantled quickly and easily. At first this was so the count could easily dispossess villagers of their homes. Later it was a way to evade taxation imposed on each new construction by the King of Napoli. The trulli could be dismantled when the tax collector came by for an inspection, and then reconstructed just as quickly when he left. Trulli came to be known as temporary, unstable field shelters that were not worth taxing.
In reality, trulli are anything but unstable or primitive. They are built directly on the underlying natural rock and their internal structure is very durable. The thick double walls keep the trullo warm in winter and cool in summer. There are systems for collecting rainwater using eaves projecting at the base of the roof diverting water through a channelled slab into a cistern underneath the trullo. Some trullo homes are made up of groups of 2- 5 trulli. Most historians agree that the building technique for trulli came about due to the area’s geographical conditions and abundance of limestone. The quickie evictions and tax evasion scam came later.
In the early 1600’s there was a group of about 40 trulli in Rione Monti (Monti District) then settlement and trullo construction really expanded with the addition of a bakery, mill, tavern and butcher shop. In 1797 the feudal rule of the Acquaviva family ended when Ferdinand IV, King of Napoli proclaimed the community a ‘citta regia’, or royal town. Alberobello took its name from silva arboris belli, the Latin name for the region.
Today Rione Monti has 1,030 trulli and Rione Aja Piccola has 590 trulli, many of which are still inhabited as homes by some of Alberobello’s 11,000 residents. You can also find the trullo church of Sant’Antonio di Padova, trullo souvenir shops and ristoranti, and a trullo hotel. In the surrounding countryside there are many trullo masserie (farmhouses) that can be rented.
In 2010 along with Orsara di Puglia, Alberobello was distinguished with a Bandiera Arancione (orange flag) designation, a seal of quality from the Touring Club Italiano. Alberobello can be accessed by train or bus from Bari. Although Alberobello is quite ‘touristy’, it still retains its charm and is definitely worth a visit. If you can brave the mid-day sun in the summer, the cast shadows against whitewashed walls are an artist’s and photographer’s dream….but if you start dreaming about i Puffi, you’d better go find some shade!