Nestling in the Valley of Itria, in the Southern Italian region of Puglia, are the strangest habitats that would not look out of place in a fantasy epic. Called Trulli, these round limestone buildings all have a conical roof, and since Trulli of Alberobello became a Unesco world heritage site in 1996, visitors have been snapping up these rural buildings, and using them as a holiday home.
A trullo was designed back in the 1660s primarily as a shed for agricultural workers, the farmers who toiled on the land. But they were also created to be dismantled easily, as a new tax on buildings came into force, and the workers wanted to be able to take down the trulli when the inspectors came to visit.
The original buildings were constructed with a drystone, and built using no cement, just carefully placing the slabs on top of each other, to create a water-tight structure. And for buyers who are interested in purchasing a trullo, one advantage of owning one is that they only need renovating every 100 to 150 years or so. You do need a professional however, an expert that knows how to reconstruct the building.
One such expert, Giovanni d’Errico, spoke to the BBC about his trade as a trullaro: “I became a trullaro about 20 years ago. Before that I was a tiler. When I began, there was just one trullaro left in this area. It was a dying trade. Now there are loads of us.”
And is d’Errico at all upset at outsiders coming in and buying up all of these historical buildings? Not at all he says: “They gave us work and a bit of well-being – they brought our abandoned land back to life. Even if it has slowed down with the recession and heavy taxes on homeowners, our profession’s still growing. I do not make a fortune but I do love my job. It is a beautiful thing that everyone wants a trullo.”
The interest in these fascinating buildings is relatively recent, as d’Errico says: “They were mostly abandoned ruins. People saw them as hovels for the poor.”
However, for anyone who is interested in buying up an old trulli, you should be careful of employing just anyone to renovate it, as Giuseppe Miccolis, another master trullaro who specialises in historic trulli warns: “The problem is that anyone can set himself up as a trullaro without any formal training or qualification. It is one of the best preserved… urban areas of this type in Europe. Its special features, and the fact that the buildings are still occupied, make it unique. It also represents a remarkable survival of prehistoric building techniques.”
Miccolis knows what he is talking about as he was born into the profession, and give a brief history lesson on the origin of the trulli: “Tradition has it that drystone walling was imposed upon the new settlers so their houses could be quickly dismantled. This served two purposes: recalcitrant householders could be dispossessed easily and, later, it would be possible to avoid taxation on new settlements. In the latter case the buildings could be reconstructed equally rapidly.”
And he feels so passionate about these historic buildings, that he has even started taking local school children on walks to visit the trulli, in the hopes to inspire them and create their own unique interest: “I am hoping to inspire local kids to develop the passion my family passed on to me.”
Meanwhile, if you are interested in buying one of these beautiful buildings, but worry that they are all going to be sold, fear not, as there are over 1,500 trulli in Southern Italy. However, anyone wishing to buy or renovate a trulli would have to conform with several building regulations, as trulli are protected under the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) world heritage law.