Even if I grew up and lived in Alberobello for many years, I still find it very fascinating the way the trulli (the local houses) are built. For their peculiar and unique architectural style – their shape and size – someone even called them Hobbit dwellings, which, if you ever seen any, you’ll agree with me that is a fair way of describing them.
When I show my hometown around to people, one of the first and more frequent questions I get is:
“How do you build a trullo?”
So I thought I’d share my knowledge about it also because I found the whole architecture behind the construction of a trullo being interesting and quite clever.
There are many different opinions and stories connected to the creation of the trullo design, one of the most widespread is to do with avoiding a settlement tax by creating drywall houses that could easily be taken apart in case of inspections by the King of that time. It was the local lord Count of Acquaviva that enforced this unusual construction method to the locals so that he too wouldn’t have to pay the taxes involved and I’m kind of glad he did so. In this way Alberobello now has something special to be known for and has secured World Heritage Site status from UNESCO for it.
There are different architectural elements that make trulli diverse from other structures.
The entire trullo is built with the local limestone and nothing else, there isn’t in fact any mortar or cement to keep the stones together which still amuses me.
These houses are generally single rooms which sometimes are built next to each other to create a bigger habits with extra room for big families and even the animals. The walls are built directly onto the bedrock with no real foundations and is closed with a cone-shaped roof that rises in horizontal rings made of limestone slabs or locally called chiancarelle. To avoid having any water infiltration the roof is made of two layers, on the external one the slabs are positioned in a way that the rainwater can simply flow into some side gutters to be collected in the well.
Even the walls have more than one layer, there is an external and internal wall with a gap in between filled with small little stones that works as insulation from the outside. People say that a trullo is very cool during the summer – which is true and a very pleasant escape from the heat – and warm during the winter which isn’t so true. In fact because of their design trulli aren’t so easy to heat up.
“A very clever design if you ask me!”
To close the cone roof, each trullo has at its top a pinnacle or pinnacolo – as the locals call it – which hasn’t any functional purpose, it’s only decorative and it reminds me of a chess piece. There are many kinds of pinnacles in different shapes with different meanings and sometimes they simply represent the personal signature of the man who built the trullo.
Some cones also have whitewashed symbols painted on which used to have magical, religious and mystical meanings generally intended to protect the inhabitants.
“What about the interior?”
People also asked me how structures like those can be habitable considering how small a trullo is. Most of them have only one room under each cone roof, they have though some sided arched niches that were used as living or storage spaces.
There is usually an open fireplace in each trullo which was used for both cooking and heating purposes. The chimney rises high above the cone roof, I particularly like to look at its various shapes and how they are placed on the cones.
It’s crazy to think that entire families – sometimes together with animals – lived in these tiny houses in such ancient conditions. I admire how the local people tried to adapt the architectural style of the trulli to their own needs and to the local stone available for their construction.
One of my favorite parts of the trulli is their entrances with their unusual arch on top of the tiny doors. Again, so many shapes!
I’m pretty sure there are many amazing old and new architecturally remarkable examples of drywall (mortarless) constructions, but I have a particular affection to trulli which might simply have something to do with my sentimental link with them.
Another question I get a lot is:
“Do you live in a trullo?”
And the answer is, no I don’t. Buying a trullo today is very expensive and if you already own one renovating it is even more costly. I wouldn’t mind though, maybe one day I’ll have my own trullo 🙂