Guide to Alberobello, Puglia – Italy’s Most Unusual Southern Town
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I recently took a 1-week trip to Puglia, a southern region in the “heel” of Italy that is relatively untapped, for the most part. It’s Italy, though, so that’s all about to change, and Puglia is on the brink of discovery. That’s why I went when I did.
There are several towns, both in the countryside and along the Adriatic Sea, that dot the area and make it the charming part of the heel that it is. For Puglia is beautiful and rustic, and every bit as stunning as its more famous northern neighbors. There are several towns to explore, one of the most popular being the fairytale-like town of Alberobello, located in the picturesque Itria Valley.
Alberobello is unique in that it’s home to about 1500 cone-shaped, white-capped houses known as the Trulli. They are everywhere and make up the historical part of town, the Zona dei Trulli. Entering this zone, with the little beehive-shaped buildings every which way you turn, is like stepping into another world, a Disney-esque take on a small Italian town. It’s certainly like nowhere else I’ve been, and sort of felt like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs might walk by any minute!
Except that of course they won’t, because as adorable as this town might be, it’s become extremely touristy. There are souvenir shops everywhere, taking up space in practically every trullo (singular for trulli) you come across. The day I visited it was pouring rain, and there were still lots of people walking around, trying to get a glimpse of this most unusual town. And for that, you can’t blame them. Alberobello is truly a unique town (no pun intended!). I enjoyed walking around, despite the crowds, and despite the rain. It was a different kind of experience, and for that I was able to see past the tourists.
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Below is a brief history of the trulli. Keep in mind it was pouring rain and these are not my best photos! I didn’t dare bring my big camera out, for fear of wrecking it, so all photos here were taken with my I phone under a shaky umbrella. I managed to find some lulls in between the rain so that’s good. But I do wish it had been a sunny day!
History of Alberobello and Trulli
I first learned of the trulli and Alberobello from my friend and USTA tennis partner, Peter, who’s southern Italian ancestors are from the region and surname is Trulli! He explained to me that the name refers to the type of roofing used on the buildings. Apart from that, I had never heard of them before. Upon further research, I learned that Alberobello is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, due to its abundance of the historical trulli. The word trulli actually comes from the ancient Greek word for dome, and means cupola in Italian, referring to its conical roof. The trulli date back to the 14thcentury in the land that is now Alberobello, and were/are made out of limestone found in the region.
The trulli were built in such a way, with various layers, that they are completely waterproof. They are generally one room homes, in the center of the cone, with smaller rooms in alcoves built into the sides of the walls. It is said that these structures were very wisely built because, despite having hardly any windows, the thickness of the stone kept the homes at an ideal temperature – cool during the summer and warm during the winter.
The ingenuity of the trulli, however, is not just how weather-proof they were – it has more to do with the fact that they were built without cement and mortar and were essentially dry-wall structures – making them easily dismantlable. This was done on purpose. You see, in the 14thcentury the King of Naples ran a highly taxable system, and that’s one of the major reasons why and how the trulli came to be. Due to the fact that they could be easily taken down, the people were able to evade the taxes. Right before the region was to be examined, the homes would come down. Rather genius! It’s up for debate as to whether or not this is the real reason they were built- many historians say it was simply the availability of the limestone in the area – but either way the homes served a dual purpose, and are praised for the cleverness in which they were built.
These days, people from all over come to see Alberobello and its plethora of trulli – both for its historical importance as well as being a completely different kind of town to explore. It really does feel like you’re wandering the streets of a fairytale, albeit with a lot of other tourists too.
There are two sections of town – the Rione Monti, which is the old town quarter with about 1000 trulli, and the Rione Aia Piccola, the less-touristy and more residential area with about 500 trulli. Both are fun to wander around, for different reasons. And that’s exactly what there is to do there – wander the streets, take in the atmosphere, and enjoy one of Italy’s most quirky and unique towns.
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