(Title borrowed from Bernard Rudofsky’s book on non-pedigreed architecture.)
A trullo is an extraordinary building, certainly unlike anything else on mainland Italy. It’s small and round with a conical roof, something you’d imagine a hobbit might emerge from. But no, the trulli were the homes of peasants in northern and central Apulia, from prehistoric until relatively recent times.
Very thick drystone walls typically enclose a single, circular room. Where there’s more than one, the rooms seem to grow out of one another, engendered but still attached, like cacti. In rare cases of larger trulli, there may be a second storey with a wooden floor. A tiny window set high in the wall is often the only opening other than the low door.
The roof is a conical dome made of stone slabs, stacked horizontally in gradually diminishing concentric circles. And at the very top, of course, there’s a keystone, part of which protrudes and is often sculpted with symbols, some just decorative, others mysteriously esoteric.
In Alberobello, not far from Bari, a whole historical trullo quarter survives intact and has earned a place on the Unesco World Heritage List . The singular, diminutive dwellings here number 1600, date from the mid 14th century and are still in use today. They’re also overrun by tourists, but then so is Venice. Another trullo village can be found at Villa Castelli, further south. Many other towns in the area still boast a few, and hundreds lie abandoned in the Apulian countryside.
The Apulians are an enterprising breed, and lots of trulli have been adapted for 21st century living and hospitality, some in town and others charmingly set against a backdrop of olive groves.
Take a look at how my architect friends Annalisa and Daniele are sexing up old masserie and trulli with contemporary extensions and mod-cons.