A recent visit to the Val D’Itrea in Puglia, Italy was inspired by a promotional ad for holiday accommodation in a Trullo. It looked so unique that The Writer was hooked so we built it into our 5 week Italy holiday. I have to say that The Writer is a consistently great travel planner and does a lot of destination research before presenting me with options and possible itineraries. If I had to pay for his time I wouldn’t be able to afford the holiday!! Well I suppose he would just put it in the holiday fund and we would be able to afford it anyway… back to the Trulli ( plural of a Trullo in Italian)
What’s a Trulli?
A Trullo is a traditional round dry-stone house with a conical stone roof built by the early peasants of the area now known as Puglia in Italy. We saw thousands of them on our stay, concentrated in the town of Alberobello ,dotted around the countryside in fields and huddling together in farm complexes. There were ancient tumbling down Trulli, rustic but functional Trulli, faithfully renovated Trulli, renovated and extended Trulli and brand new built Trulli. Traditional Trulli were made with large grey rocks from the field set together without any joining material. A conical stone roof was added and then flat stones were layered over the top to allow the water to run off into collecting channels built like steps into the roof – a bit like the modern tiled roof. The roof is then capped off with a little spire holding a round stone ball ( sometimes other shapes were used). The cap is often whitewashed and provides a great contrast to the grey stone. Some are just a single room, others are grouped together with connecting doors through the very thick walls, and some big farming complexes will have a main house with many conical roofs and smaller dwellings for animals and storage nearby..
Why build Trulli from stone?
Well if you ever visit Puglia you’ll notice an abundance of stone fences. And when I use the word abundance I really mean it! Seeing metre wide stone walls running each side of the narrow lane way to our accommodation just emphasised the amount of stone that must have been in the fields. If you want to plant crops you need to cultivate the land so down come the trees and out come the rocks. You can use trees for buildings, furniture, storage, fencing and fuel and but once the trees are all gone you need to find another building supply. There’s only so many fences you can make so what better way to use up those pesky stones than to build with them. There’s also a popular theory that by pulling out the conical capstone on the roof the local peasant could dismantle his house almost instantaneously thus avoiding the tax on permanent dwellings. Sounds a bit dodgy to me – I bet they took a long time to build and I certainly wouldn’t be demolishing mine every time the taxman came around! I might make a portable painted panel to disguise it though. You know the sort of thing I mean – a bucolic little number with an olive tree and a couple of goats grazing underneath with a sow and her litter foraging for windfall. I reckon that would do the trick and save a heap of work.
Alberobello World Heritage Site
Whilst Trulli date from the prehistoric age the oldest intact examples are from the 14th century and can be found in the town of Alberobello where there are over 1000 Trulli! Many of the Alberobello Trulli have whitewashed walls with a stone roof and a whitewashed capping cone. Some have whitewashed symbols painted on the roof.
This area is now a World Heritage listed site and we visited it during peak tourist time, then again early one morning and later for a sunset . It’s impressiveness lies in the simple, functional beauty of the buildings and the sheer number in such a small area. The downside was all the tourist trinket shops set up in the Trulli. I love arts and crafts but they’re scarce on the ground in Alberobello. Puglia has been one of the poorer areas of Italy so while it’s pretty easy for me to be annoyed at the tacky souvenir shops spoiling the atmosphere the locals are just doing their best to make a living and I tried to remember that.
Is the Trulli a dying art form?
There doesn’t seem to be any reason to think the Trulli won’t be around for another few millenia. We saw a lot of modern Trulli which are often made from a lighter, creamy coloured stone using square-cut blocks from local quarries which were mortar set. They incorporated multiple conical roofs with other larger areas using different angled roofs and there are some stunning properties around. Our accommodation for the week was part of a renovated Trulli with very sympathetic extensions set in beautiful grounds with a stunning paved pool area, fruit trees and olive groves.
Would I want to live in a Trulli permanently?
Not really – great for a holiday but the design means there’s not much space in each little circular room. The up side is the conical roof means there’s plenty of height to hang your favourite rustic chandelier, the downside is once you’ve got in the table and chairs there’s no room for anything else. Still, in Puglia’s summer heat those 3 foot thick walls really keep you cool and once it’s winter you can just stay tucked up in bed when you’re not eating at the table!