Trail Of The Unexpected: Rooftop charm in Alberobello, Southern Italy

My first trullo was above Fasano. I'd just climbed 990 feet from the Puglian coastal plain with its large box-like masserias and suddenly there it was, a round whitewashed structure with a circular tiled roof topped off with what looked like a stone chess piece.

The trulli of Puglia are remarkable structures, their curious Hobbit-like design a result of an equally curious history. In the 16th century this upland area was a fiefdom belonging to the Counts of Conversano, a branch of the Acquaviva family who held baronies all over the southern part of Italy. The family turned a blind eye to farmers constructing homes up here until the day that someone informed the king of Naples, who drew revenue from each building erected on his feudal territories.

Rather than have to pay royal taxes, the Conversanos demolished every house. Now with a lot of homeless peasants on his hands, the story goes that Count Girolamo Acquaviva agreed his people could build again, providing their houses could be pulled down as soon as word was heard of tax inspectors on the road. Thus a style of building was created in which coned limestone structures were put up without mortar so that they could be quickly pulled apart if the need arose. The locals called these houses trulli from the Greek word tholos, meaning dome.

I passed many more of these structures en route to Alberobello, a settlement on two hillsides that is the centre of trulli construction. Alberobello grew up in the 18th century but was rarely marked on maps. Because the Kings of Sicily – who controlled this part of Italy's southern mainland – insisted that all new towns and villages had to have royal blessing, and because the Acquaviva family had no intention of shelling out for such endorsement, the village was designed to disappear in a day should the need arise.

Eventually such a life of uncertainty got to the people of Alberobello and they petitioned their king in 1797. Ferdinand IV granted Alberobello freedom from its feudal lord and finally the villagers could start planning for the future.

Trulli dominate Alberobello, dome after stone dome rising like some discarded design for Hobbiton in the film version of Lord of the Rings. The town's two hillsides are quite different. Rione aja Piccola is at the top of a flight of steep steps and is the commercial centre of the village. Rione Monti on the other side of the valley is more residential, but also more touristy, with school parties weaving in and out of the galleries and shops that line its sloping cobbled streets.

Halfway up Piccola stands the Museo del Territorio, a big baggy structure created by merging 15 trulli. Quite a few dwellings in Alberobello are composites of two or more trulli, but this gets the prize. It was bought by the municipality in 1986 to be turned into a celebration of all things trulloid.

From here I lost myself in the back street. I came across the Trullo d'Oro restaurant – cucina tipica nell'intimatà di un trullo – and made my way up Corso V Emmanuele to the Trullo Sovrano, which was a priest's house constructed out of 12 little trulli clustered round a big double-vaulted central trullo. The priest for whom it was built was Cataldo Perta, known in the village as Pope Cataldo because of the comparative luxury of his composite accommodation.

Trullo Sovrano is open to the public so I paid €1.50 to look around. Inside it was a sequence of unremarkable circular rooms but the front bedroom had a feature I'd never seen before: an oblique peephole for shooting at visitors should the sleeping priest be disturbed in bed by anyone he did not like.

Across in Rione Monti, I found an excess of tourist tat. The one place that stood out was Anna Maria Matarese's shop in Via Monte Pertica which sold novelty fischietti. I'd been seeing traditional fischietti all over Puglia. These elaborately painted pottery whistles often take the form of a cockerel. Anna Maria's approach is different: she commissions artists to make satiric fischietti. Here were rows and rows mocking the professions and plenty of politicians in bed with each other, but my favourite was a very blowsy Italian family moving house with the mattress strapped on to the top of their tiny Fiat. It was about the size of a wedding cake and still functioned as a whistle if you turned it round.

But my main find was back in Piazza del Popolo. Casa d'Amore was built by the first mayor of the newly established town in 1797. Francesco d'Amore used mortar to construct a revolutionary two-storey dwelling with a balcony to show the people of Alberobello they no longer had to build in the old impermanent way.

Funnily enough, Casa d'Amore looks rather like an unusually tall trullo with a balcony and – despite a plaque exhorting the people of Alberobello to build free, the village didn't stop constructing trulli. Feudalism might be dead but there was a house style now.

The writer stayed at Masseria San Domenico (00 39 080 4827769; imasseria.com) which offers rooms from €330 per room, per night, including breakfast. For further information on Alberobello visit tiny.cc/1uiFG

Suggested Topics
News
The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
people
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Sport
Christiano Ronaldo enjoys his opening goal
champions leagueLiverpool 0 Real Madrid 3: Ronaldo and Benzema run Reds ragged to avenge thrashing from their last visit to Anfield
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
News
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
Wilko Johnson is currently on his farewell tour
people
Voices
New look: Zellweger at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
voicesRenée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity, says Amanda Hess
News
Let’s pretend: KidZania in Tokyo
educationKidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day
Life and Style
CHARGE BOOSTER: Aeroplane mode doesn't sound very exciting, but it can be a (phone) hacker's friend. Turning on the option while charging your mobile will increase the speed at which your phone battery charges
techNew book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
film
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    SCRUM Master

    £30 - 50k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a SCRUM Master to joi...

    Franchise Support Assistant

    £13,520: Recruitment Genius: As this role can be customer facing at times, the...

    Financial Controller

    £50000 - £60000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A successful entertainment, even...

    Direct Marketing Executive - Offline - SW London

    £25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A fantastic opportunity h...

    Day In a Page

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
    Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

    'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

    The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
    Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

    Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

    A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
    The 10 best smartphone accessories

    Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

    Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

    Liverpool v Real Madrid

    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
    West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?