The Trulli of Alberobello

The Trulli of Alberobello

The Prehistoric Tradition of Dry Stone Architecture

The Trulli of Alberobello, Italy

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    Trulli are vernacular buildings characterised by quadrilateral shape, covered by conic roofs, and constructed using roughly worked limestone boulders collected from the neighbouring fields. Later, as large water-collecting basins were created in the area, they were built directly on the underlying natural rock, using drywall technique exclusively. They constitute a very peculiar architectural expression; on the one side, they were created upon the tradition of ancient technologies and typologies, dating back to the prehistoric age and surviving through time in this southern Italian region without any interruption; on the other side, the current situation led to a wide geographical distribution in the 17th and 18th centuries. 
Alberobello, Trulli street  
The combination of two or more trulli of different size forms a dwelling. A higher number of trulli, freely aggregated with each other, forms the “trullaia” i.e. a group of buildings, of small courtyards or farmyards including animal housings, of small fenced gardens and vegetable gardens accessible only from the respective households. The smallest trulli, which usually host niches for beds and fireplaces, are connected to the main trullo by means of low arches. Rural trulli show up throughout the Itria Valley. However, the only town truly and unifiedly marked by this type of construction is Alberobello, with its two main districts, Monti and Aia Piccola. Monti, built on a territory of considerable slope, covers an area of 15 hectares and comprises a total of 1030 trulli. It is the first large and well identifiable group of trulli in town, opening up fan-like towards the hill, separated from the rest of the city by the offshore Martellotta. Downhill roads all converge in the same place to facilitate the outflow of water. The district of Aia Piccola with its 590 buildings is the second, less homogeneous, group of trulli. Its houses converge in a common farmyard where, after the end of the feudal age, the peasants were required to publicly beat the grain. The analyses carried out on the existing documentation and the field surveys have made it possible to identify a multitude of assets characterising the site – urban, architectonic, documentary (particularly referring to prehistoric building technologies), testimonial (the site being representative of a now-disappeared civilisation), and social ones. 
Nonetheless, in order to better evaluate the importance of the town of trulli for all mankind, this has to be compared to several built-up areas scattered around the world, particularly in the Mediterranean region. In other words, the town of trulli is undeniably part of a much wider set of sites testifying of the so-called spontaneous or vernacular architecture’, i.e. ‘architectless architecture’. Of particular relevance is the urban context where the historic groups of the site, Aia Piccola and Rione Monti, are located. Alberobello is the only case where dry-stone architecture presents itself in an urban shape, together with all the typical factors that help to identify the aggregation system of private and public spaces that define the town. The urban renewal and suburban expansions of the last century have neither modified the essence of the urban structure nor affected the extraordinary architectural heritage of the trulli town. Nowadays, Alberobello is advisedly considered to be one of the most significant and better preserved spontaneous urban settlements in Europe. The inscription of Alberobello’s trulli into the UNESCO World Heritage list (WHL) in December 1996 on the basis of cultural criteria (iii), (iv), and (v) was justified by the World Heritage Centre as follows: “The site is of outstanding universal value being an exceptional example of a form of building construction deriving from prehistoric construction techniques that have survived intact and functioning into the modern world”.
Alberobello, Trullo Sovrano  

Historical Description

There is evidence of prehistoric settlement in the Itria valley, and it is possible that the “tholos” tradition of building may have been introduced to the region at this time. It is generally considered that the present settlement dates from the mid-14th century, when what appears at the time to have been an uninhabited area was granted to the first Count of Conversano by Robert d’Anjou, Prince of Taranto, in recognition of his service during the Crusades. 


He and his successors colonised the area by moving people from their other fiefs such as nearby Noci, allowing them to build cottages known as “casedde”. However, recent research by local planners suggests that the scattered rural settlements that were built from around A.D. 1000 on either side of the small river that now runs underground through the town gradually coalesced to form the village units of the latter-day Aia Piccola and Monti.

Alberobello, Trulli street  


Tradition has it that drystone walling was imposed upon the new settlers so that 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. This is known to have occurred in 1644 to thwart tax inspectors sent by the King of Naples. However, historical and comparative analysis suggests that this technique was no more than a minimal physical response to local conditions and circumstances, later to be exploited for fiscal or punitive purposes. By the mid-16th century the Monti area was already occupied by some forty trulli, but it was in 1620 that the settlement, then still part of the town of Noci, began to expand, when the Count of the period, Gian Girolamo Guercio, ordered the construction of a bakery, a mill, and an inn. By the end of the 18th century the community numbered over 3500 people, and in 1797 they succeeded in bringing the feudal rule of the Acquaviva family to an end by obtaining the status of a royal town from Ferdinand IV, the Bourbon King of Naples. The name of Alberobello was adopted, taken from the medieval Latin name of the region, silva arboris belli. From this time onwards the construction of new trulli quickly declined.

Strenghts and weaknessess

At present the local community is deeply aware of the historical and artistic quality of their trulli, and of the importance of an adequate policy of protection, preservation and valorisation. The monumental quarters have to be considered not only as an historic document but, above all, as one of the best preserved examples of spontaneous architecture within the Italian architectural tradition. 
This urban area presents several issues that are frequently faced in public debate, as phenomena that combine elements of weakness and strength: 
1. The huge tourist traffic through the site is growing and becoming a relevant source of economic development, but also increases the need to provide the right services and interventions in support of it. The first task leading to trigger these operations is surely the recognition and assessment of the values characterising the site.
2. The biggest part of the trulli localised in the UNESCO area (but also in the territory outside the perimeter) are private property still maintaining the original residential function. This entails a constantly increasing need of facilities e.g. parking lots, as of yet hardly in accordance with the protection requests. On the other hand, everyday use guarantees the continuous maintenance of the dwelling structure and, in a wider prospect, the conservation and evolution of the natural vitality of the human social structure which characterises the site.
3. The specificity of traditional dry-stone techniques implies that the restoration of the trulli is often done using techniques not in keeping with the traditional ones, which are expensive and applicable by skilled labour only and getting scarcer by the day due to the fact that the knowledge of mortarless stone building techniques is being generally replaced by modern mechanized technology. However, this has had the effect of bringing to the international scientific community’s attention the need to define actions for the survival of construction skills.
All considered, there is a need for specific methods to assess the ongoing and future projects’ level of interference with the core values of the site such as their integrity and authenticity.


The EX.PO AUS project

The project which title stands for the EXtension of POtentiality of Adriatic UNESCO Site, is aimed at conceiving and testing an innovative and long-term articulated strategy aimed at managing and valorising the UNESCO sites of the Adriatic sea basin, trying to address new ideas, tools and actions in order to successfully manage such sites and achieve a sustainable economic valorisation on their 
behalf, especially from an ecological and energy-efficient point of view. For most of the partners involved, this project represents the natural continuation of the long path aimed at devising a pro-active strategy of preservation and economic valorisation, which should involve a plurality of public and private agents. Alberobello first commenced drawing the attention to the protection of its values in the late ‘80s, promoting and hosting an international scientific conference on dry-stone architecture (1987). 
Alberobello, Trullo    
This seminar raised the attention on proper restoration methodologies, which were later applied during the restoration (1993–1997) of Casa Pezzolla, a very large and articulated trullo that nowadays houses the Regional Museum. This intervention gave the opportunity to elaborate specific guidelines for the restoration of the trulli (1997). This first process of recognition of the specificity of this one monument in turn resulted in the recognition of the trulli as a UNESCO site (1996). This achievement has made possible to direct the attention to the wider context of the town of Alberobello, setting up a Management Plan of the sites (2008–2010), defining rules of protection of the system trough a Buffer Zone (2010), and devising a planning framework in order to participate in numerous calls for funding (2010–2012). Several projects have been implemented in Alberobello with a view to consolidating the involvement of the local social layer. This has been the base for implementing projects at a national and international level with other sites (UNESCO-funded and not) presenting similar characteristics (Italy, Turkey, and the Adriatic) which saw the inclusion of EX. PO AUS as well.