A trullo is a unique kind of hut that was traditionally constructed in the Italian region of Apulia. The remarkable Trulli houses are small conical buildings that were built with the dry-stone technique. The technique has been used from Neolithic times. It consists of building structures from stones, without any cement or mortar to bind them together.
The small town of Alberobello, in the province of Bari, is the most famous example and has the highest concentration of Trulli houses. It has been on the UNESCO World Heritage sites list since 1996. The Trulli houses have white-washed walls with white symbols painted on their cone roofs. Most of them are Christian symbols, such as a cross or a heart pierced by an arrow that stands for Santa Maria Addolorata, Our Lady of Sorrows. The roof of each trullo is topped by a pinaccolo or pinnacle. Some believe it is an ornament, while others suggest it represents social status of the trullo’s inhabitants.
The origin of the trullo is unclear, but most scholars agree that the first Trulli probably appeared in Prehistoric times. A lot of examples of dry-stone dwellings dating from ancient times are found all over the Mediterranean. In the 8th century BC, the Greeks colonized Apulia. The tholos tombs that the Greeks used for burial are connected with the origin of the trullo. It is probably from the Greek work ‘tholoi’ that the modern word trullo comes from.
Some of the Trulli in the Apulia region date back to the 14th century. The then unpopulated land was given to Robert d’Anjou, Prince of Taranto and the then King of Naples as a reward for his service during the Crusades. After that, the land was inhabited with feudal settlements that later became villages which are today known as Aja Piccola and Monti.
In the 17th century, in Italy, the nobility imposed heavy taxes on every permanent residence. So the peasant families started to build dry-stone homes so that they could dismantle them in a hurry, thereby avoiding paying the taxes. The owner was able to demolish the house at a moment simply by pulling the topmost stone on the cone roof, as it prevented the roof from caving in. However, most historians don’t agree with this theory and suggest the building technique is a result of the geographical conditions of the area, which is plentiful with limestone and could be literally collected from the land and used as part of these huts.
The inhabitants were mostly peasant families from Apulia. They built roughly circular or square shaped Trulli. In the center of the trullo was the fireplace, used for heating and cooking. It had thick walls, which kept the trullo cool during the summer, and warm in winter. The families would often share two or three cones, and as the family was getting bigger, a new trullo was constructed next to the existing ones. The livestock occupied their own trullo. In 1797, the King of Naples, Ferdinand IV de Bourbon, gave the village the title Royal City.
At the end of the 20th century, local craftsman Guido Antionetta brought new life and purpose to the half-abandoned town. He bought a few dozen abandoned Trulli, modernizing and renting them as modern rustic apartments. Many others followed his example and by doing so, they preserved the last of the area’s unique Trulli and made Alberobello a popular tourist destination. Today, these tiny Trulli houses, besides being apartments, also serve as restaurants, a museum, and surprisingly, a church.