Discovering Puglia: The Trulii of Alberobello

The home base for our first week in Puglia was Hotel  Sovrano (www.hotelsovrano.it), a small and comfortable family-run hotel in Alberobello , a town of about 11,000 located in the province of Bari, Italy.

A. Trulli houses in Alberobello with symbols painted on their conical roofs. B. Trulli shops in the commercialized district of Alberobello. C. View of the commercialized district.

Alberobello is famous for its unique trulli houses. These unusual dwellings are built of local limestone. They are usually square and have very thick stone walls. The roof is a dome topped by a spire. There is generally a central room, with additional living spaces in alcoves. Residential trulli are whitewashed, and their roofs are often decorated with symbols having religious or superstitious significance.

In the 15th century the trulli were constructed a secco (without mortar) using only dry stones. Apparently this was a very clever way to avoid taxation, for when the King of Naples sent his agents to this area to collect house taxes, they usually found nothing but piles of stones. House? What house? After the tax collectors had gone, the wily folks of Alberobello reassembled their dismantled homes and continued on with their tax-free existence

Some of the Alberobello trulli are now gift shops, restaurants, doctor’s offices, hotels and B&Bs, but many are still used as homes. There are about 1500 of them in and around Alberobello, and because this represents such a unique architectural and cultural phenomenon, the area has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Basilica of Saints Cosma and Damiano at the head of Alberobello's main street

It is a pleasant walk down Alberobello’s tidy main street which is lined with interesting shops, cafes and restaurants. The street begins at the beautiful Basilica of Saints Cosma and Damiano, and it continues south to the main town square, an open space with tables for eating and benches for people watching –  a favourite pastime of the old men of the town.  From a belvedere just off the south side of the square there is a good view of many of the town’s trulli that are concentrated in a commercialized district on a slope facing the town centre. (See photo C in the panel above.).

The Church of St. Antonio

Restaurants and shops that sell local wine, orecchiette (little ears) pasta, and a variety of souvenirs line the narrow streets that slope upwards from a flat area that was once a riverbed, but now marks the area of an underground aquifer. At the top of the hill stands the Church of St. Antonio built in 1926. It is the only church to have a dome shaped as a trullo.

A second trulli district on the opposite side of the riverbed is a quiet residential area with no shops. There are about 400 trulli in this part of the town. 

We were very fortunate to have been in Alberobello during the last week of September when Alberobellesi of all ages attend the celebrations that honour saints Cosma and Damiano, Greek physician brothers who were cruelly martyred in the 3rd century.

During the Festival of Saints Cosma and Damiano, Alberobello is a blaze of lights from the town square to the Basilica.

For four days in September there are fireworks and concerts in the square by local and visiting orchestras and bands. The main street leading from the Basilica to the town square is a blaze of light every evening, and the street is jammed with the faithful who patiently jostle their way to mass, and then view the wares of itinerant street vendors who offer a vast selection of merchandise at bargain prices.

The streets are congested during the festival period – especially at night, but the friendly crowds are a model of orderliness and civility. No drunks, no looters, and no riots here, just families and friends enjoying a very special celebration.

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