Italian culture and history: Alberobello and its Trulli
- WTI Magazine #106 Aug 19, 2018
The trulli, the characteristic cone-roofed houses of Alberobello, Apulia, make up one of the 49 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Italy. The name derives from the late Greek word for dome (τρούλος; in Italian, cupola), and refers to the ancient stone houses with conical roofs, constructed with the abundant limestone from the plateau of Apulia’s Murge zone.
These impressive and unique structures, largely present in the Valley of Itria, can also be found in the Provinces of Brindisi, Bari and Taranto. They are a genius example of architecture that is spontaneous, yet imperishable; to this day they are still used as homes.
Alberobello, an inland village of the Province of Bari, is undoubtedly the Capital of the Trulli: its historic center is integrally constituted by these rather particular white, pyramidal structures that make it so famous and identifiable.
The archaeological finds – that is, the first trulli settlements – date as far back as the Bronze Age, while the trulli still extant today go back to c. 1350; the more uneven and shaky structures were destroyed and reconstructed (rather than repaired) time and time again.
Legend has it that this dry-wall construction, made without mortar, was imposed on the peasants of the area in the 15th Century, by their lords the Counts of Conversano, in order to evade an edict by the Kingdom of Naples that demanded tribute, or tax, on every new urban construction. Indeed, these types of settlements came to be identified as temporary and unstable, easy to demolish, and not taxable. The reality is, however, that the trulli are anything but unstable. Their internal structure, compact and without any elements of support or linkage, remains marvelously durable and, although seemingly so, primitive they are not.
The trulli have an essentially rotund form; their bases, in heavy limestone masonry, are grafted onto the underlying natural rock of the same substance.
The trulli are known to be modular: that is, the structure’s interior is distributed around the central room. The walls’ thickness, as well as the scarcity of windows, ensures an ideal thermic equilibrium: warmth in winter and cool temperatures in summer.
The roof, meanwhile, is composed of a pseudo-dome made of horizontal limestone slabs, positioned in series of diminishing, concentric circles – the so-called “chianche” (interior), and the finer “chiancarelle” (exterior). The keystone, often decorated with esoteric, spiritual or propitiatory characters, is a very important structural element, and ingenious is the presence of a large and prominent frame protruding from the roof, utilized for the collection and transfer of rainwater into ad hoc cisterns.
The trulli are a unique example of ancient architecture that still survives and is in use today. To visit the stupendous Alberobello today is to travel to a destination without time.