White trulli in the sun

Trulli Wonderful Homes

Houses, I have come to believe …. 
should not reassure, should not
attempt to soothe, or give comfort,
but should, rather, excite.” 
― Patrick McGrath

I read something recently that said women love to look at houses, that upwards of 70% of the people who attend open houses are women, and that most of them are there just to look. I don’t know how accurate that stat is, but I can see how it might be true.  I love to look at houses, both outside and inside—although I don’t usually go to open houses.  (I will, however, tour model homes.)

A street of trulli
Inhabited trulli

A few years ago, I saw a story about the trulli, the conical roofed homes in Puglia, and after that, I was determined to see them in person.  When I was planning my residency in Italy in 2018, I actually looked into staying in trulli for a few days before I had to be in Carunchio, but I chickened out because they are not too close to anything. I therefore booked us into an Airbnb place in Bari with plans to go to Lecce and Alberobello during our time here.  The onset of sore throats coupled with cold rainy weather kept us from Lecce, but I was going to Alberobello no matter what. When it dawned sunny and bright, we took off on the Ferrovie Sud-Est train (the Pugliese regional train). I was quite excited to see trulli  scattered through the fields as we rode along, and every time the train stopped in a tiny town that was not Alberobello, I sighed.

“You’ll get there,” Mike assured me.  I knew that, but I wanted to be there NOW.

“This train would drive me crazy if I had to ride it all the time,” I snapped back.  “It’s going so slowly that you’d think Fred Flintstone was pedaling it to move it along.” Mike rolled his eyes.

We finally got to Alberobello and took off for the historic area.

“I had no idea there’d be so many,” Mike said to me as we walked up one street.  “I thought there might be five or six.”

Overview of historic Alberobello with roofs of trulli sticking up
This historic area of Alberobello

“This is the capital of trulli,” I told him.  “I figured we’d see a lot.”  I didn’t realize, however, just how many there were until we rounded a corner and came to a park that overlooked the historical area which contains hundreds of trulli (above).

There are more than 1,000 trulli in Alberobello itself, and many of then are home to gift shops, cafes, and vacation rentals. There still are a number of residents who live in trulli.  The round interior has niches for furniture, fireplaces, storage, and more. There are trulli that consist of more than one of the cones, and those have double or triple façades and roofs, very few windows, and a low hearth. 

“I bet most of these are reproductions,” Mike said to me at one point.

“I don’t think so,” I replied.  “I’m pretty sure they’re the original structures.”  I walked over to a man who was working on a trulli.  “Are these all original?” I asked him.  

He assured me that the buildings were are original but that many had had some sort of renovation done over the years.  “Even today,” he told me, “you can see we are working to fix them up.” I relayed his comments to Mike who was pretty impressed.

Worn trulli with conical roofs
Unrestored trulli waiting for some love…Note the layers and layers of stone

“How old are they?” Mike wanted to know, but I admitted I wasn’t sure and would have to look it up.

Layers of limestone that construct the conical roof
Trullo roof

As I found out, the oldest known trulli dates back to the 14th century, although archeological digs have produced remnants of trulli that date back to the time before Christ.  Originally designed as homes, shelters, or storage sheds, trulli are round and have conical roofs.  Builders made the trulli from limestone (plentiful in the area) and did not use mortar to allow owners to dismantle the trulli quickly to evade taxes of landowners and/or royalty. (Interestingly, brick walls/fences built in the same manner line the pastures and fields in the area). Trulli walls are very thick, and there are few windows, both designs instrumental in keeping the trulli warm in winter and cool in summer.  Today, the insides and outsides of most trulli have a coating of plaster and/or whitewash.  The world trulli, by the way, comes from the Greek word thólos, which means dome.

While most of the small town has what we consider “normal” buildings, trulli dot the streets, of two districts. Rione Aia Piccola, the residential area, is quiet and home to residents who still call the trulli home (above). We wandered through the narrow, winding streets of Rione Monti to find bars, cafès, restaurants, shops, B&Bs, and more. The main attractions, of course, were the trulli themselves.

Two trulli with signs inviting tourists to tour an inhabited one
“See an inhabited trullo”

Several of trulli call themselves museums (above), but they are, mostly, shops. The main museum in town is Museo del Territorio. More than 10 trulli combine to display the ancient agricultural and building equipment as well as rooms decorated in period style

Unfortunately,we didn’t get to go in as it wasn’t open when we were in town.

Two trulli with modern apartments in the background
The old and the new…. The trulli back to modern apartments

“My gosh,” I exclaimed to Mike as we walked back to the train station, “those houses were so beautiful.”

“I don’t know if I’d call them beautiful,” the male half of this household replied.  “They’re unique, and they’re what you go to Italy to see…a different way of life.”  I rolled my eyes so far back they almost could see the back of my skull.

And, I guess that’s why women like to look at houses more than men. In addition to being comfortable and assuring, houses excite us because we see more than the shell.

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