Alberobello, Italy

Alberobello and its Trulli turned out to be an excellent double header day trip with Matera and its Sassi.  Both places feature vernacular responses to an extremely rugged landscape with little in the way of building materials.  Whereas in Matera they dug their homes out of the rock valley walls, in Alberobello they built their houses from stacked stone, constructing elaborate but small domed structures, that are theoretically temporary (they are dry-stacked without the use of mortar) but are actually some of the oldest buildings in the region.

As in Matera, a few of the houses have been fitted up as museums displaying the furniture and objects of their historic life.  This one, Trullo Souvrano, is atypical, being the only two storied trullo in the region and combining a large number of domes into one dwelling – for a wealthy family.  The interiors are surprisingly light and airy considering the smallness of the windows and doors. Aggressive whitewashing helps a lot, as does the light bounce effect of the vaulted ceilings.

While there are a few excellent but small museums, the chief thing to do in Alberobello is wander around it, which I did for a number of hours on a blindingly sunny day.  After I had strolled most of the streets in both the tourist area and the quieter old quarter, I struck out of town on a country road to see a few Trulli in their natural habitat – as farm auxiliary structures.

As I was waiting to catch said bus, a tiny Italian crone approached me and asked some questions about the bus time.   We ended up having a long chat about my travels and history in the simply elementary school Italian I’d accumulated after a month.  I was able to tell her where I’d been, that I was travelling alone for four months, headed from Madrid to Istanbul.  I told her about my family and that I was an architect – AIA regulations about internship titles being quite beyond my language skills – and she wanted to know if I was married.  Not yet? Ah well there’s still time.  In summary, she shook her head and called me courageous three times in five minutes – which I easily translated in my head to “you’re crazy to be doing this.”   I was just happy to have such a complete communication.  I returned to Bari on the bus at the end of the day sunburned and pleased with myself.

Interestingly, the main architectural alternative to the Trulli in the area seems almost universally to be the clean lines and whitewashed concrete of international modern. I noticed a strong modernist tendencies in the towns we passed on the way to Alberobello and the same was true in the towns outlying districts.  Part of this can be explained by a financial and commensurate construction boom in the region post or maybe pre WWII but many of the buildings are obviously newer than that.   Every town the bus has passed through was populated by consistently modernist buildings often inventively and quite well designed and very little in 60s thru 90s era styling.  I have no strong explanation for this phenomenon but I did enjoy it – the contrast between vernacular and designed buildings was very pleasing in the little town.
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6 responses to “Alberobello, Italy

    • Oh that is a TOUGH question. I think it comes down to a matter of taste. Matera is more dramatic, Alberobello more charming. Matera has more activities – small museums, interior spaces you can access – while Alberobello is more about the experience of walking around. Matera has a longer and more dramatic history. I think, of the two it might be marginally more of a draw. But if you can squeeze in time for two day trips – I’d visit both.

      • Thanks – we’re staying in Polignano on the coast for 4 days. I’d already pencilled Lecce in as daytrip number 1, but will try to persuade the wife we also need to visit both Alberobello and Matera (possibly on same day like you).

      • Oh no. I did them sequentially in two days. If you’ll have a car you might be able to fit them both in but with public transit (the train) you’d definitely need two as you need to return to Bari. But anyway, enjoy your visit. I know I did.

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