Alberobello trulli.

The Fairy Tale Village of Alberobello and its Picturesque Trulli Houses

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Alberobello, literally translated as ‘Beautiful Tree,’ is a small town with one-of-a-kind historic buildings called trulli. The iconic houses in the town have led it to dubbed by a ‘fairy tale village’. It is thanks to the photogenic trulli houses that Alberobello was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.

Alberobello is situated in the Metropolitan City of Bari, Apulia, which is the region forming the ‘heel’ of Italy. It has been recorded that in around 1000 AD, the human presence in the area of the modern-day town was limited only to a scattering of rural settlements. Over time, these grew into Aia Piccola and Monti, districts within the modern town.

Alberobello, Apulia, Italy.

Alberobello, Apulia, Italy. (Tango7174/ CC BY SA 4.0 )

What is a Trullo?

Around the middle of the 14th century AD, the area was given by Robert II, the Prince of Taranto, to the Count of Conversano, as a reward for his contributions during the Crusades. The earliest trulli in Alberobello are reckoned to date to this period of the town’s history. In essence, a trullo is a building of corbelled dry-stone construction. In other words, such structures are constructed without the use of mortar or cement. This traditional building method is thought to have originated in prehistoric times and is still in use even today.

The trulli of Alberobello may be divided into two different parts. The first part of these structures is the whitewashed walls, which are rectangular and built directly into the limestone bedrock. These walls are constructed using the dry-stone wall technique and consist of two faces (one on the exterior, and the other on the interior of the structure) with a core of rubble. These limestone walls are punctured by a doorway and small windows, and an internal fireplace and alcoves may be built into them.

Model of a trulli.

Model of a trulli. (Marcok/ CC BY SA 3.0 )

The second part, which makes the trulli such iconic structures, is the conical (some of these may be either dome or pyramidal in shape) corbelled roofs. Like the walls below them, the roofs of the trulli are also constructed without the use of either cement or mortar and comprise of two layers. The inner layer is formed of wedge-shaped stones arranged in a dome shape and capped with a closing stone.

The outer layer, on the other hand, is watertight, and made using corbelled limestone slabs known as chianche or chiancarelle. By utilizing an architectural feature known as a squinch (also called a corner arch), the trulli are able to transit directly from rectangular walls to conical roofs. Many of these roofs bear religious or mythological markings in white ash and are topped with a decorative pinnacle. These are believed to serve an apotropaic function and meant to ward off evil.

Chiancarelle-clad roofs in Alberobello, province of Bari, Italy.

Chiancarelle-clad roofs in Alberobello, province of Bari, Italy. (Fgmedia/ CC BY SA 3.0 )

Warding off Evil, or Just Alberobello Taxmen?

According to one source, the trulli were built as a way to avoid paying taxes to the authorities. The townspeople could easily demolish their houses whenever they heard that tax collectors were due to visit, thus allowing them to escape paying taxes.

According to another source, the Count of Conversano allowed the peasants on his land to move out into the field on the condition that they found some sort of shelter, to maximize agricultural yield. Whilst the peasants were allowed to build their houses out of stone, they were not allowed to use mortar to hold the building materials together, as the Count insisted that these dwellings ought to be easily removed when he pleased. As a result, the trulli were constructed.

Trullo in Alberobello.

Trullo in Alberobello. (Marcok/ CC BY SA 3.0 )

Although the trulli were meant to be easily destroyed, many of them have survived for a long period of time. Today, there are about 1500 trulli located in the zona dei trulli, which is on the westernmost part of the town’s two hills.

The trulli impart a fairy tale-like atmosphere to the landscape of Alberobello, and this has drawn many tourists to the little town. In 1996, Alberobello was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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