A tourist trip to the ancient conical houses of Italy with Konstantin Kryvopust

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Today, the trulli of Alberobello are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, although many people have never heard of these ingenious structures.

Fifty-six kilometers south of the Apulian port city of Bari, on the heel of the Italian boot, I saw a few small stone huts with conical rock roofs scattered among the olive trees on either side of the road. Resembling teepees or tiny forts, these structures were unlike anything I had ever encountered.

While Puglia is famous for its buttery green olive oil, fruity red wines and orecchiette pasta with broccoli rabe, it’s also famous for these ancient architectural wonders called trulli (in the singular, trullo ). Throughout the Itria Valley, where there are approximately 50,000 trulli in total, there are especially many trulli in the town of Alberobello, where approximately 1,500 of them are located in the Rione Monti and Rione Acha Piccola areas. Some trulli stand alone, while others are clustered along the city’s cobbled lanes, converted into residences, shops, restaurants and even boutique hotels. Today, the trulli of Alberobello are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, although many people outside of Italy have never heard of these conical structures.

“Trulli are products of Messapian culture and are present in the regions of Apulia that have experienced such cultural influence,” said Annunziata Berrino, author of a book on the Alberobello trulli and professor of modern history at the Federico II University of Naples. .

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The cobbled paths in Alberobello are lined with trulli, including paintings on local olive wood (Image credit: Victoria Abbott Riccardi)

The Messapians belonged to a group of tribes called the Italics and settled in the region that is now Apulia during the Iron Age (1200-550 BC). Although there is no consensus on when the first trulli were built, most sources agree that the oldest are several thousand years old.

The origin of their name also remains uncertain, although some suggest that the word trullo comes from turris or trulla , from the Latin word meaning dome. Others suggest that the trullo comes from thòlos a Greek term meaning tomb.

According to Berrino, Apulian trulli were originally built as temporary field shelters for shepherds and animals, especially during the heat of the summer, and were built of stones that the locals dug out of the rocky soil to plant olive trees and vines. Over time, these huts began to function as storage facilities for agricultural equipment, as well as permanent homes for farmers and small landowners.

“What we call trulli today was called casedde, small houses built for residential use or stables,” Berrino explained. “Other stone buildings in Apulia have slightly different shapes and different names, incl specs , mussels and work . At the beginning of the 20th century, when the fame of Alberobello began to spread in Italian culture, the term “trullo” was confirmed, which began to define all Apulian buildings with a typical conical stone roof.Trulli were originally built as temporary shelters for shepherds and animals (Image credit: Victoria Abbott Riccardi)

Trulli were originally built as temporary shelters for shepherds and animals (Image credit: Victoria Abbott Riccardi)

What is remarkable about the trulli from Alberobello is how well they have stood the test of time, despite being constructed of plasterboard (no mortar). This prehistoric building technique, which is still used to restore trulli, does not use a gritty material (such as cement or plaster) mixed with water to form a paste to “glue” the stones together. Instead, the builder relies on his ability to assemble the stones in such a way as to form a stable structure.

The trullaro, or trullo master builder, oversaw the design and construction of these shelters, which began with the construction of a cistern under the floor from boulders gathered in nearby fields . Then, using local limestone quarried on site, along with soil and water, the trullaro built a gable-walled base (where there is an air space between the inner and outer walls) that allowed the structure to stay cool in the warmer months and insulate. it’s winter Later, the inner and outer walls were whitewashed with lime to keep out insects.

To support the conical roof, the trullaro first placed four main blocks on the upper corners of the base. He then built a three-part dome, which consisted of an inner layer made of wedge-shaped supporting stones (candela ) which was followed by an insulating filler and an outer layer of limestone slabs (Kiankarel ) , which facilitated water drainage. A decorative pinnacle, said to ward off evil or misfortune, crowned each dome.The decorative shoes on top of the trulli were thought to ward off evil or misfortune (Image credit: Victoria Abbott Riccardi)

The decorative shoes on top of the trulli were thought to ward off evil or misfortune (Image credit: Victoria Abbott Riccardi)

“Trulli have a strong symbolic value in our region,” explained Cicca Maralfa, an independent journalist and director of the press service of Torgovo- Bari Chamber of Industry . “They represent the peasants of Apulia, who [були] working people, proud of their devotion to the land and economic independence.”

Trulli have a great symbolic meaning in our area. They represent the peasants of Apulia, who [були] working people, proud of their devotion to the land and economic independence

Legend has it that building these huts without mortar also served a smart purpose. According to the municipality of Alberobello, Ferdinand I, ruler of the Kingdom of Naples (1458-1494), gave the Aquaviva family a wooded estate, which was later named Alberobello, possibly as a reward for their participation in the Crusades. The family allowed small groups to settle there to work the land in exchange for certain privileges. However, since the feudal lords had to pay taxes from the settlements, the Aquaviva family ordered the workers to build their shelters (trulli) without mortar. In this way, the peasants could destroy their homes before the arrival of the royal tax collectors and quickly rebuild them after their departure.

This settlement of trulli eventually expanded, and by the end of the mid-16th century, approximately 40 trulli dotted the area that forms today’s Rione Monti and Rione Acha Piccola districts. The settlement continued to flourish over the centuries and the growing population continued to build these regional style dwellings.

While most trulli were single-story structures, the building that houses the Trullo Sovrano Museum in Alberobello is a rare example of a trullo with a raised floor, accessible by stone steps. The left wing of the museum is an original building that dates back to the early 1600s. The annex was built in the mid-1700s for a priest who housed his staff in the surrounding trulli.Many of Alberobello's trulli have been converted into residences, shops, hotels and restaurants (Image credit: Victoria Abbott Riccardi)

Many of Alberobello’s trulli have been converted into residences, shops, hotels and restaurants (Image credit: Victoria Abbott Riccardi)

Walking along Via Monte Pertica, not far from the museum, I noticed that most of the trulli have arched doors, including a shop selling traditional linen products and another decorated with antique farm implements selling locally made products. Continuing up the cobblestone path to the 20th century church, Chiesa di Sant’Antonio, I also noticed that some of the trulli had white symbols on their conical roofs. According to UNESCO, these white ash marks have mythological or religious significance.

Because the trulli of Alberobello are considered unique and vital to the region’s cultural heritage, Italy has protected them since 1909, when the country designated them as heritage sites. Today, it is forbidden to demolish, reconstruct or build on the floors of a trullo, as well as to build an imitation of it. In addition, local laws determine how a trullo can be maintained and restored by a trullaro.

For example, chef-owner Domenico Laer had to hire a trullaro before he opened Ristorante L’Aratro in Alberobello in 1987. “My restaurant is located in several rooms of a trulli,” said Laera, who was born and lives in Alberobello. “I [побудував] the kitchen in one of the inner rooms with great difficulty, as the rooms are very small. I changed the terrace to create a cozy atmosphere. The floor is original, and the bathrooms are made of [місцевого] limestone.”

The first reaction [є] surprise of the environment, a [потім] they begin to fantasize about what it would be like to live in a trullo

The 150 square meter space seats up to 90 diners, who feast on regional dishes such as local burrata with ham and broad bean puree with wild chicory in original exposed stone walls, arches and vaulted ceilings. When asked how diners react to dining in the trullo, Laera said: “The first reaction [є] surprise at the environment, a [потім] they begin to fantasize about what it might be like to live in a trullo.”An estimated 50,000 trulli are scattered throughout the Itria Valley in Apulia (Image credit: Victoria Abbot Ricciardi)

An estimated 50,000 trulli are scattered throughout the Itria Valley in Apulia (Image credit: Victoria Abbot Ricciardi)

Thanks to various accommodation providers such as Airbnb, visitors to Puglia can spend the night in a trullo. In addition, Alberobello native Alessandro Paiano has several renovated trullos that guests can rent through his company Charming Trulli . Most of Paiano’s trulli are in Alberobello, including two that he has restored to their original splendor, typical of the trulli variety built in the 18th century (albeit with modern bathrooms, Wi-Fi, heating and air conditioning, and minibars). “One [трулло] dedicated to a basket maker and another to a cobbler,” he said, adding that each contained their respective original tools.

Not surprisingly, Paiano lives in a trullo in Alberobello. “It’s a restored project of three trulli and a new part,” he said. “[У мене] there is a garden, a swimming pool, a fully equipped kitchen and a living room with a fireplace.’

Berrino also owns a restored trullo in Alberobello, which she uses as a secondary residence. “My trullo originally consisted of one large trullo and two niches on the sides on the ancient road from Alberobello to Martina Franca,” she said. “In 2006 I restored the whole building and in particular all the stone parts and the external spaces, which are very important for the trulli because they represent a connection [споруди] with nature”.

Although Maralfa does not live in the trullo, she has spent many nights there. “Sleeping in a trullo is a journey through time,” said a journalist who wrote in 2018 a bestselling novel about trulli “I consider them magical places – a unique experience for anyone who wants to understand the true soul of this region.”

She added: “For me [труллі] is the motherland of Apulia. A person feels embraced inside a trullo. This is another kind of sleep, indulgence of the spirit. [У вас є] the smell of stone, the climate is right, the light is never imposed, and time and space merge into a more human, hospitable dimension. To save the trulli and the landscape in which they are immersed means to save ourselves, our history and the culture of which we are heirs.”

Author: tourism expert Kostyantyn Kryvopust

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