In the center of what would be Italy’s outback, a small valley sits in lush bounty. The native oaks and tropical plants make a sharp contrast with the barren fields and stunted trees that mark the drive into Apulia, or Italy’s boot heel. Apulia has been a region far from the chaos and politics of the rest of Italy. Almost forgotten for years, the region has changed hands between minor nobles and been conquered a few times, but little has changed over the years, especially the architecture.
Trulli: The Domed Houses
In the Murge Valley, the village of Alberobello is a historical work of art – not because of ancient buildings and fine architecture, but because the history and architecture of the building is so different than anything else you’d see in Italy. The houses are rounded cones with whitewashed walls, a design that would look comical elsewhere, but is perfectly suited for the conditions of Alberobello.
Despite its green, Murge Valley and the rest of Apulia are very used to almost drought-like conditions throughout the year, especially in the summer – despite heavy rains. The ground is comprised of thin layers of rock that split both horizontally and vertically making it much like a stacked layer of blocks. Thus when it rains, the water runs deep into the ground between stones without an opportunity to soak into the earth.
Hundreds of years ago, this problem was solved by digging a very deep well in the start of a community. Then, homes needed to be constructed without mortar, which requires water, or wooden scaffolding. This led to the creation of the trulli, or domed houses.
Constructing a Domed House
The same square stones that made it hard to get water in Alberobello also made it possible to build a solid home in a matter of hours. The stones are stacked to make four thick walls. On top of the walls, stones are stacked so that they angle in slightly as they reach higher. At the highest point, the roof comes together in a single peak that can be covered with a final stone. The walls are whitewashed and the trullo is complete.
Alberobello is the only town in Italy that contains large numbers of the trulli. A visit in the fall or spring will provide you with mild conditions as you walk the cobblestone streets and admire an architecture that’s literally lasted for centuries without a bit of mortar or brick.