Alberobello and its Trulli

This is an excerpt from the book “Apulia”.

Alberobello
Alberobello (Bari, Puglia, Italy): Panoramic view of the trulli town

Alberobello is quite far south in Italy, close to Bari, and this part of Italy isn’t on the itinerary of most tourists. The landscape close to Alberobello is quite beautiful, filled with olive groves, vineyards, and stone-walled fields and of course the occasional trulli in the fields.

There are about 1000 trulli outside of the town of Alberobello itself. Seldom do you see just one lonely “trullo” by itself. (When you have more than one “trullo” they are called “trulli”). As a family grows so does their tiny one room house. A new “trullo” is nestled right up beside the first one, naturally, with an opening made in their common wall to connect the two. Later, if the family wants even more room, it’s simple, just add another one, then another, each with its very own pointy headed roof.

Alberobello Apulia Puglia
Alberobello Apulia Puglia

Some have also added lofts under their roofs. Quite a few trulli have been turned into small shops for the tourist trade. It’s nice to go inside a few of them as you get a chance to see the trulli on the inside as well.

There are of course the usual souvenir shops, but there are a lot of little shops that display the handicrafts of the local artisans. Others offer the wines, jams and all kinds of foods that are specialties of the region. The trullo in the picture above has been turned into a bar (Italian Coffee house).

Trulli’s roofs and symbols.

There are a few types of symbols you can find on the roofs : “primitive” for they constitute remains of ancient cults that were celebrated in the “woods”.

Alberobello symbols on the roof of the Trulli

A second group of symbols are defined “magic” because they’re bound to astrologic signs imported by ancient oriental cultures. And symbols like this one. They are the most common and numerous symbols.

They go from a simple cross to Christ’s monogram; from the symbols of the Passion of the Lord, to the initials of the “Santi Patroni” (protector Saints); from the eucharistic chalise to the signs of the monastic orders. It’s fascinating to watch all these little details, and see all the differences between the trulli. None of them is the same.

But besides the symbols, there is something else on the roofs that makes every trulli unique from the other : the pinnacle. Pinnacles are made of hand-worked stone and they stand out so clearly because they are white-washed. According to some people the pinnacles represent the constructor’s signature. Any constructor, indeed, gives it his own signature shape.

Alberobello - The pinnacles

According to some experts, Pinnacles join the cult of the sacred stones, or also a representation of the primitive huts’ stake cross; some claim that there’s a symbolic meaning in the pinnacles, as in the paintings on the cupola.

Where does the architecture come from?

A good guess is that the name trullo comes from the Greek tholos, the name for a conical-shaped, domed tomb, such as those earliest ones found at Mycenae, (i.e., Agammemnon’s tomb) and in Crete, dating from the early Bronze Age. Similar domed tombs of later eras are to be found all through the Mediterranean world, including Southern Italy.

The story I like best is the one suggestion is that the origin of the trulli had to do with outwitting Ferdinand I of Aragon.

This king had prohibited the Apulians from building permanent dwellings because he wanted to be able to move the labor force around as he chose.

Trulli in the old center

The clever Apulians thus constructed houses that could be dismantled when they spotted the king’s agents. Another theory suggests that during Spanish rule, a tax was levied on individual homes, except for unfurnished homes, for which the trulli qualified when their roofs were removed. Hahaha, could be true… people do a lot to avoid paying taxes, LOL

A logical explanation is this one : The limestone, a calcareous rock found in abundant stratification throughout the region, is easily separated into thin layers that can readily be shaped into crude bricks that don’t require mortar when re-layered. The dome design allows heat to rise, slightly cooling the living space, a significant factor in the region’s brutal summer. Given that the area has long been impoverished, perhaps the design is nothing but good old ingenuity, a means of cheaply constructing homes and businesses with the materials at hand.

Ostuni

Ostuni

Not far from Alberobello is the city of Ostuni. The “white city” of Ostuni is built above the green terraced fields. The city is such a beautiful sight from a distance. It is sitting up on the top of three neighboring hills, and all the houses are perfectly whitewashed.

I know I was in Italy, otherwise I would never believe it. It doesn’t look Italian to me at all! Ostuni is the main city of the pre-Roman Messapii tribe, and its compactness is reminiscent of a Greek town – as is its name which comes from the ancient Greek “Astunion” meaning “new fortress”.

How to get there

I went by car to Alberobello, and it’s not that hard to find. Head south of Bari on S100 and then east (signposted) on S172. Just outside the tourist area you’ll find lots of parking spaces, for which you have to pay though. I can’t remember how much anymore, but I don’t think it was that cheap.

You can also go by train to Alberobello. FSE trains leave Bari every hour (every 2 hr. on Sundays) heading to Alberobello. The trip takes about 1 3/4 hours and costs 6 euro . To find the trulli, follow Via Mazzini, which turns into Via Garibaldi, until you reach Piazza del Popolo. Turn left on Largo Martellotta, which will take you to the edge of the popular tourist area.

Where to stay in Alberobello

There are hotels, B&Bs, villas and apartments available, check them out and make a reservation here.