Alberobello: Trulli Different

By Mr. TWS


I was going to avoid the pun, but just couldn’t help myself. Besides, it’s true — the trulli of Alberobello and the surrounding area in the Puglia region of Italy are unique.

"Cluster of trulli in Alberobello, Italy"

Cluster of trulli in Alberobello

I hadn’t seen (and I have to confess never heard of) trulli before doing some research for our trip to Puglia in June. The online information and photos were enticing and we decided Alberobello, where trulli are quite prolific, would be a must-see. But it wasn’t until we were actually there that I got to understand the special characteristics, symbolism, and surprises about them.

"Trulli seen along the road in the Valle d"Itria, Puglia, Italy"

Trulli along the road in the Valle d”Itria

While driving through the Valle d’Itria to visit the white hilltop towns of Locorotondo, Cisternino and Martina Franca we had seen trulli, some of them very old, along the road. My first impression was that they were alluring — something out of a fairy tale, cozy like a hobbit hole. The fascinating stone buildings with conical roofs made of layered stones ( limestone) and topped at the peak by unusual symbols seemed everywhere. We couldn’t wait to explore them in Alberobello.

"Cozy trulli of Alberobello"

Trulli of Alberobello

So what’s the deal? Why did this style of architecture become so dominant here? No one is completely sure though I liked the popular story which said that they originated during a high tax time and the trulli constructed of dry stone (i.e. no mortar) could be quickly disassembled when inspectors (of the King of Naples) were in the area. Certainly the geology of the area had a play with the availability of limestone. The design with double walls up to 2 meters thick also was extremely conducive for sheltering from the weather: waterproof, retaining heat in the winter, and repelling the heat in the summer. The design also accommodated the capture of rain water, diverted in channels to a cistern beneath the house. Trulli are also quite stable; long abandoned ones remain solidly intact.

They fascinated me. No mortar and yet they were waterproof, partly due to the limestone and double wall stone construction with gravel between them. The cone shapes were created by layering concentric circles of stone with gradually decreasing diameters, which is apparent viewing the conical roofs. By the way, the word trullo (singular form) is derived from the Greek trŷllos, meaning cupola.

Initially (in about the 16th century), trulli were stone huts with a single trullo for housing farm workers or livestock; these usually had a single circular room. In the mid-19th century, when wine making in the area flourished somewhat as a result of the French Wine Blight, farmers built their homes using the trulli design. These were typically multiple room structures with a square base which had multiple trulli with a room beneath each, usually a larger trullo over the center living area connected to bedrooms and a kitchen with a fireplace.

"Sun symbol on trullo roof in Alberobello, Italy"

Symbol on trullo roof

Also interesting were the large whitewashed symbols on the cone roofs. These are almost exclusively on the trulli of Alberobello; the custom of annually whitewashing the symbol at the same time whitewashing the complete interior and lower exterior, which disinfected due to the properties of the lime in the limestone. The symbols were typically religious in origin, either Catholic, such as a cross or chalice, or Jewish, such as a candelabrum. The pinnacle of the cone was adorned with a stone symbol, usually with more superstitious than religious origins, such as an orb, representing the sun; others shapes include stars, moons, disks and cones.

"Souvenir shops in the trulli of Rione Monti area of Alberobello, Italy"

Shops in Rione Monti area

Alberobello which sits on hills overlooking Valle d’Itria has the greatest concentration of trulli in the region with over 1,500 in the village.  Founded in 1797, Alberobello, a community of about 11,000 people, was named a UNESCO world heritage site in 1996 for the trulli that represent many of the its buildings. We explored the two areas of Alberobello with most of the trulli, starting with Rione Monti located on the highest hill of Alberobello, which has over 1,000 trulli, most of which house shops and restaurants.

"Shops in the trulli of Alberobello, Puglia, Italy"

Shops in the trulli of Alberobello

We walked up the main steep limestone-cobbled street, Via Monti San Michele, winding past many shops and narrow, picturesque side streets. We looked inside a number of shops just to get a peek at how they had used the trullo structure interior or out of curiosity about the wares.

"L'Aratro Restaurant inside a trulli in Alberobello, Puglia, Italy"

L’Aratro Restaurant

Our first stop was for lunch at L’Aratro where Domenico Laera, the owner personally took care us. He is a very colorful and charming character; we enjoyed his jocular exchanges in Italian with Carlo Romano, our resourceful guide and driver during our stay in Puglia. The food was fantastic (I think I had my favorite pasta dish in Puglia here) and the setting in a multiple trulli building made it a perfect place for lunch. But the friendly, amusing host and great service made this a place not to be missed when visiting Alberobello. Domenico was gracious in providing a brief tour of the rest of the spacious establishment after lunch. It gave us the ability to view the inside of a trullo at close range pictured above. The decor retained the character of the rustic trullo interior while highlighted and appointed with complementary furnishings and décor.

"Murals inside Casa Nova Restaurant in Alberobello, Italy"

Casa Nova Restaurant

After leaving L’Aratro we stopped briefly at a nearby restaurant, Casa Nova. Carlo wanted us to see the interesting interior and to meet the owner, Ignazio Spinetti, whom we knew. Ignazio proudly showed us the unique design and decorations I particularly like the murals on the walls depicting scenes of traditional ways of life in Puglia.

"In the Matarrese linen and souvenir shope with owner, Claudia Caporaso"

Matarrese with Claudia Caporaso

Nearby, on Via Monte Pertica Carlo took us to Matarrese, a Trulli-housed shop with two primary wares, beautifully hand embroidered linens and clay whistles. The latter were new to me; though we spent lots of time in Italy, almost none of it was shopping. There were hundreds on display in a very small show room. They were all made of clay and brightly painted. The sizes varied from a .7 meter tall figurine to very tiny figures. Each had a traditional whistle-type mouth piece and holes to vary the tones. The subjects varied from animals to fruits and vegetables to foods (real-size pizza) to famous caricatured figures (e.g. Barack Obama, the Pope, Alberto Benigni, and Silvio Berlusconi). The linens were beautiful and Sweeney purchased one as a gift for her niece’s newborn daughter, who was less than 5 hours old when we were in the shop. Carlo introduced us to the owner, Claudia Caporaso and her family. She was very hospitable and we were led to the rooftop of the shop to see amazing views of the trulli of Alberobello.

"A view of Alberobello trulli from the rooftop of Matarrese souvenir shop"

Rooftop view or Alberobello trulli

We continued up the street to the top of the hill and a trullo-style church, Church of St. Anthony of Padua, pictured inside and outside below. Our first impression was awe at the beauty and size but then it seemed the architectural style was quite fitting for a church. As we had come to learn, each church that we visited was surprisingly unique inside and it was interesting to guess the inside of this one from viewing the outside.

"Trullo-style Church of St. Anthony of Padua in Alberobello, Italy"

Church of St. Anthony of Padua. trullo-style atop Rione Monti

"Church of St. Anthony of Padua interior, Alberobello"

Church of St. Anthony of Padua

We traveled back down the hill and across to Alberobello’s second hill to a newer area of the city, Rione Aia Piccola which has 400 trulli, almost all residential.

"Rione Aia Piccola area of Alberobello, Italy with the cathedral towers at the top of the hill"

Residential area of Rione Aia Piccola with Alberobello’s Basilica towers above the rooftops

Away from the main tourist area of Alberobello, it was fairly quiet as we walked along the streets and briefly toured the Basilica before ending our visit in front of the Trullo Sovrano, a museum which was closed, but represented on the largest trullo structures and was also representative of the Alberobello multiple-room trulli. Inside, the museum provides a glimpse into what it had been like to live in a trullo-style home.

"Trullo Sovrano museum in Alberobello's Rione Aia Piccola area"

Sweeney in front of Trullo Sovrano

We haven’t seen or heard much of trulli anywhere else since our visit; however, we were told a similar style of architecture can be seen in other areas of the world, some much older.

"Quiet side street off the busy tourist path in Alberobello"

Side street of Rione Monti

Have you seen the trulli or similar buildings in your travels?

Our thanks to Puglia Promozione for hosting our Puglia experience.

We’re contributing this post to Nancie McKinnon’s Budget Traveler’s Sandbox Travel Photo Thursday. Enjoy other links to photos and stories on her site, too.

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38 thoughts on “Alberobello: Trulli Different

    1. Mr. TWS Post author

      Thanks for the comment. Yes, amazing. Puglia was awesome and the trulli and Alberobello unique. We only spent an afternoon but that certainly feel like we covered the 80/20 for this area.

    1. Mr. TWS Post author

      Sweeney felt hers was also her favorite which says a lot because we had great pasta everywhere in Puglia. Hope you get to visit there. Thanks for the comment.

  1. Mike

    I had never heard of trulli until this post, Mr TWS! I really enjoyed the history lesson and background. Your hobbit hole description was perfect as that was exactly what I was thinking. Everything looks so crisp and clean there. I’m glad you included the food in the post too as always 🙂

    1. Mr. TWS Post author

      Thanks for the comments. Good to know I wasn’t alone not knowing of trulli previously. Sweeney was surprised when I mentioned to her that I didn’t know of them. Glad you liked the food part. My mouth is watering at the mention. Pasta is a favorite and this was all so good but we can’t get it that good here. Probably a good thing or I’d be a sumo. The interiors of the trulli were really cozy feeling and the whitewash here and in other adjacent towns was one of my favorite things. They’re in the posts mentioned.

  2. Leigh

    I’ve never seen trulli but this part of Italy intrigues me because of the architecture. It looks like another fine stop – albeit with more amazing food – on your Italy tour. (the 4th to last photo isn’t showing). I wonder how often they have to paint those houses to keep them looking so fresh and white.

    1. Mr. TWS Post author

      Thanks for the comments and heads up. Should be fixed now. We’d love to go back and even though we don’t like to repeat and instead get to what we missed the first time, I’d definitely stop in Alberobello again.

  3. Mary {The World Is A Book}

    I have never seen structures quite like these. I’ve never heard of trulli before but these buildings are fascinating. They’re trulli unique 🙂 Their shapes remind me of the Kasha Katuwe tent rocks in New Mexico. You two had such a wonderful experience in this charming town.

    1. Mr. TWS Post author

      Thanks for the comments. I’ve never been to the National Monument- they do look a bit like trulli. Looks like a place we’ll have to visit. Our entire experience in Puglia was great and Alberobello was a nice part of the visit and we really appreciated the uniqueness.

  4. Marcia

    Yes, this is trulli different and beautiful!
    I’m always impressed to see how versatile limestone is. It’s too bad that we don’t seem to use it as much these days.

  5. Lisa Goodmurphy

    What a fascinating style of architecture – I am always impressed by the buildings that were constructed without the technology that we have today. They are a different shape but the trulli remind me a bit of the bories that we saw in Provence. Alberobello looks like a charming place to visit!

  6. Michele {Malaysian Meanders}

    I have never heard of trulli. My first thought when I saw you photos was that they must be very strong. I especially like that there is a church with them on top. The style seems to link the whole village together so that it looks like some sort of fantastical movie set.

    1. Mr. TWS Post author

      Thanks for your comments. I really like the movie set concept; interesting reaction and I can picture it that way now that you mentioned it. The church was one of my favorites. See the comment below.

  7. Jeff Titelius

    I LOVED the play on words in your title my friend!! These are so quaint and charming and while I have never seen them in person, I have read about them and their history as you described above. Love the little village streets lined with these most intriguing and picturesque structures…trulli unique. ; )

    1. Mr. TWS Post author

      Thanks for the comments. When we were there, we couldn’t resist the pun. Sweeney suggested it for the title. They are intriguing and hope you get there in person.

  8. Dale

    I must be one of those lucky few who already knew about Alberobello, but I suppose when you’re partner was born there you don’t really have much choice.

    I’ve been lucky enough to spend about 6 months there over the past few years and it’s a beautiful little town with plenty to enjoy (if you know the local ways).

    One little extra fact – The ‘trulli-style’ church was actually restored during the past few years and Franca’s sister was the chief architect:)

    1. Mr. TWS Post author

      Thanks for your comments. Very interesting about Franca’s sister; it was a great restoration. Wish we could have spent more time; 6 months must have been great.

    1. Mr. TWS Post author

      Thanks for the comments. I think that there are similar structures in other places. Not exact and I would be surprised if they were in such a concentration. That concentration and the white wash gave it all a fantastic feeling as one comment above said — magical.

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