Trulli - introduction

The trulli of Puglia, famous for their beauty and uniqueness all over the world, represent one of the most extraordinary examples of the Italian architecture.

Although spread in the whole region of Puglia, the trulli reach their maximum concentration and artistic expression in Valle d'Itria.

This area, characterized by soft undulations of the ground covered by vineyards and green woods, spotted by white houses with brown cone roofs, gives the sensation of being in a timeless and almost magical place even to a most absent-minded tourist.

The same thing happens while walking in the narrow streets of the villages of Murgia dei trulli: Alberobello (the trullis of which have been inscribed in UNESCO's world heritage list), Locorotondo, Cisternino and Martina Franca.

Trulli - origin

The origins of the trulli are controversial. The only certain thing is that the trulli of Valle d'Itria was born from both the italic wit and the need deriving from poverty. The area is located in the tableland of Murge, where there is plenty of limestone. Therefore the stones had to be cleared from the soil to make it cultivable. These stones were used for the construction of drywalls which marked properties and shelters.

The origins of Alberobello, the capital of the trulli area, are attributed to Giovanni Acquaviva d'Aragona, Count of Conversano. He wanted to transform "Selva" into his own feud, separated from the Court of Naples and therefore incited farmers and their families to live there. But when the Pragmatic edict of Baronibus imposed the authorization monopoly on all constructions, the Count of Conversano ordered his people to use only dry-stone in the building and prohibited the use of mortar. That way in case of a governmental inspection the trullis could be easily pulled down and then put together again in a few hours.

Constructions similar to trulli exist also in Greece, Dalmatia, Egypt, Sicilia and Sardinia. Some retain that the origins of trulli date from the 1500, when with the Greek name tholoi was used to indicate a dome set on the tomb called "Treasure of Atreus". Others instead relate the word trullo to the greek-byzantine term torullos which indicated the dome-shaped hall of the imperial palace of Constantinople. Moreover, some say that trullo derives from the latin word turris with its alterations turulla, trulla, trullum used to indicate a small tower.

Masonry masters ("maestri trullari") made trullo a self-sufficient dwelling for people and animals. It was one room of thirty squaremeters divided into a hearth, a store for the crop with an intermediate floor and a phenyl. The external stairs lead to landings used to dry fruit and vegetables. The trullo is the first example of isolated constructions. The dry-stone walls and cone create indeed an air space which absorbs the changes in temperature and this way keeps it even; warm in winter and cool in summer. The roof, formed by limestones, culminates with decorative pinnacles that have remote and significant origins that go from the sacredness of the Christian, Hellenistic or Judaic culture to the "culture" of cabala or good omens.

Trulli - evolution

As already mentioned before, trullo's origins date back to the prehistory: its original architectonic structure has gone through lot of changes over the milleniums. It has been transformed from a simple shelter into a real dwelling with comforts.

Such evolution can be verified only in some areas of Puglia, such as "Murgia dei Trulli" that is to say the area that includes the towns of Alberobello, Locorotondo, Martina Franca and Cisternino.

The early trullo was nothing more than a simple stone cottage with a circular plan. It had four easily recognisable construction elements: the walls, the arch of the entrance, the calotte vault and the roof, all made of limestone with no binder.

The trullo evolved from its original form acquiring architectonical characteristics from other cultures; the arch of the entrance was replaced with a round Roman arch, overlooked by a triangular tympanum.

In the same way the basic form was enriched by architectonical and functional details, such as hearth, windows, a cistern set under the trullo itself for the collection and conservation of rainwater, and limestone flooring, in order to improve the trullo as a dwelling.

Later on the circular plan became square and more trulli were built next to each others, forming one-family dwellings, consisted of a large central space and various rooms or lateral annexes.

Evermore evident adaptations of the trulli to a domestic life were verified; brackets and niches were created for the conservation of goods and furniture, internal and external walls and the higher parts of the roof near the pinnacles were plastered.

The continuous evolution of the trulli is what distinguishes them from the similar structures present in the rest of the world and makes them unique artistic and cultural heritage of its kind.

Such importance was recognized by UNESCO on 5th December 1996 when the trulli of Alberobello were inserted in the World Heritage List.

The reasons of the evolution of the trulli over the centuries till our days are to be found in a series of socioeconomic and cultural circumstances.

The most important among these is certainly the particular and typical settlement system of "Murgia dei trulli". There was a very high percentage of the population living outside of town centres until the beginning of the 20th century in this area, against the reality of other areas of Puglia and southern Italy in general during the same period.

The reasons of the situation should be looked for in

All this called for the need of a continuous care for the cultivations and therefore a constant presence in the countryside. The trullo was obviously an ideal dwelling for those who took care of the terrain for its characteristics of inexpensiveness and security, for its capacity to collect and conserve rainwater (fundamental thing in such a dry area), in addition to the customs dating from the atavic traditions. The trullo was transformed from a simple shelter into a real dwelling, often well built and particularly cured.

Trulli - diffusion

The buildings with the form of trullo, or tholoi, that is to say with a circular form, built of stone with no binder, are present in several areas all over the world; in Siria, Libya, South Africa, the Canary Islands, Spain, Provence, Brittany, Ireland, Scotland, Sweden, Iceland, Dalmatia, in Istria. In Italy this kind of constructions are present in Puglia, Liguria, Sardinia, Sicilia and Pantelleria.

The spreading of these in Asia, Africa and Europe is a proof of the existence in these areas of rather uniform civilizations which origins date from the Stone Age. These common origins are also proofed by archaeological and etymological studies on ceramic finds, megalithic monuments and common etymons in different areas. Obviously the spreading of the tholoi was possible only in the areas in which particular geomorfological and environmental conditions were suitable.

In Puglia such conditions are above all tied to the abundance of first matter; limestone which exists almost everywhere in the area, has particular mechanical and physical characteristics that have fostered and helped this kind of constructions.

This is even more true if we think about the need of clearing the stones from the soil in order to make it suitable for the cultivation.

As previously seen, the spreading of trulli was possible only in the areas where particular geomorfological and environmental conditions were suitable. Such conditions are all tied to the abundance of raw materials that allowed their construction.
Different shapes of trulli are also strictly linked to physical and mechanical properties of the materials that composing them.
In the following section are listed different kinds and shapes of trulli that it’s possible to find on the Apulian land with their main architectural and structural elements.

Type 1:
Area: Murgia
Description: The roof, covered by “chiancarelle”, is a perfect cone with an angle of 45 degrees; the fair-faced (at most painted) basement has a circular or square plant; sometimes it is possible to find a plastered tambour used for connecting the base to the roof. A complex can be composed of more trulli leaned against each other. This is the primordial shape of Trulli of Alberobello, in fact they have a square plastered base without the connecting tambour.

Type 2:
Area: Coastline from Barletta to Bari and hinterland towards Modugno
Description: The construction needs thick reinforcement around the dome that become completely hidden; the base can be round or square; in elevation it presents a series of truncated cone /pyramid steps (about 4 – 5). Because of the limestone porosity, the large steps are covered by plaster.

Type 3:
Area: Coatsline between Bari and Fasano
Descritpion: In this area trulli need to be completely covered by plaster since the material is very irregular and not malleable. The structure is composed by a round base and oval shaped or truncated conical dome. It is possible to find more trulli leaned against each other.

Type 4:
Area: Coastline from Fasano to Ostuni
Descritpion: Very similar to the type 1, this kind of trulli differs from the others for a deeper angle of the dome and a slight curved shape of the generatrix. The tambour is less present. They can be composed of more trulli leaned against each other.

Type 5:
Area: Hills of Ostuni and Carovigno
Description: These trulli don’t have a real dry stone structure, in fact the base is composed of rubblework and lime, moreover the structure of the dome is extremely different from all the other trulli. Because of this structural difference it’s necessary a deep reinforcement that leave only the top to be seen. This trullo is completely plastered.

Type 6:
Area: Salento
Description: A mix of structural methods that need once more the presence of reinforcements. Truncated cone /pyramid shapes, fair-faced structure, the horizontal surfaces are covered by limestone plates or by a thick layer of sand and stubble.

Trulli - structure

"Trullari" (Trulli workers) were truly, highly specialized technicians. Reclaiming the neighbouring soil, getting back and putting apart the necessary stones, they proceeded to the construction raising the "Parieti" (load-bearing walls) over a square plan as dry stone walls with no use of mortar whatsoever. In this way, they were able to put a remedy to all the economical problems, utilizing the vast quantity of calcareous stones available all over the territory, but most of all, they put a remedy to questions concerning the daily practical life inside the "Trullo": in fact the dry-stone walls, allowed to enjoy a constant temperature inside the house, thanks to air chambers existing between one stone and the next, capable to absorb the thermic range. The inside part of the walls were whitewashed with lime water (later even the outside part of those walls), forming this way an impassable film for every species of insects and to literally give light to the interiors, not lit enough by the small windows. The tranformation of the internal space from square to circular required a great deal of ability. Between the outside and the inside walls, there was an area that had to be filled with soil or little stones or eventually had to be broken down to get more space for bedrooms or suitable places. Inside the "Trullo", the space is regulated by laws that show simplicity and functionality. The sitting room and the dining room are blended in a simple room in which the oven, being almost outside, doesn't overheat the internal room. The smoke is carried out to the cowl through the dome-shaped roof that sometimes has got enough room for an over stage made of wood, used as a storeroom for food and olive oil. Building a dome-shaped cone really over nothing, just like suspended in space, is the great incredible magic that in history brought to fame Brunelleschi and his dome and on the other hand made appear "Trullari" (Trulli workers) as both discreet illusionist and misbelieved people. Stones over stones draw concentric rings whose size diminishes reaching an upper hole. Outside the "chiancarelle"(calcareous layers, each seven centimetres thick),are placed over the lengthened hemisphere, inclined towards the outside and over the floor as a covering. It's on this new surface that, a kind of particular creativity, which definitely not everybody has, is expressed through lime water drawings. They celebrated a very personal and distinctive spirituality made of symbols (crosses, boats, trefoil, circle sections) maybe referring to the zodiac, cabala, symbols that were pagan or simply biblical-religious, related to the image of Maria or Jesus Christ (thesis that nowadays is considered more likely to be true). In between the domes there are stages used to sun-dry beans, figs, tomatoes. The hole up high is closed with a circular monolite over which it'll be raised the Pinnacle (dubbed the "curcuneo") that can be spherical or circular, maybe of oriental origins, belonging to the admirers of the blue stone, which came down from the sky, daughter of the sun and the stars. A history in between the sacred and the profane, that embraces centuries of spasmodical attempts to obtain health, harvest, to remove the evil eye and at the same time, to benefit the profits of hard work. Centenarian ladies covered with light, continue to preserve their beauty and pureness. They never cease to amaze us with a floating of white and grey, over a blue silent sky, in the shadow of a now lost art tradition, daughter of a sun that's still following them.

Trulli - Ornamental Pieces

The forms of the pinnacles have their origins in the “betilico” cult, practised by primitive oriental populations.
This cult which name “betilico” derives from the latin word baetulos, meaning sacred stone, was based on the adoration of the “blue stones”, such as meteorites or aerolites, retained daughters of the sun and the stars as they had fallen from the sky and were able to create sparks.
The pinnacles of the most ancient trulli are clear reminders of this cult: pinnacles placed horizontally, with the form of a ball or a disc, represent the sphere and the solar disc; those with the form of a pyramid (with four or five sides) or of a cone, refer to the sacred stone baitulos.
In more recent trulli the pinnacles have assumed aesthetically more developed shapes such as cross, in order to be adapted to new religions, particularly to the Christian one.

The primitive art, already recognized in the pinnacles, developed with the time passing. This could be seen in different, lime-washed marks, symbolic figures, monograms and emblems placed on the cone- roofs.
Most of the symbols have their origins in the Christian religion and vary from the cross to the Christian monogram, from the symbols of passion to a pierced heart, from a glowing Sacrament to an Eucharistic chalice.
Other symbols are pagan, such as cock, snake, horseshoe, ox’s or ram’s horns and primitive such as circles, triangles, straight  and curvy lines, swastikas like those that can be seen in some old vases found in Puglia.
Others derive from magic; among these there are astronomical, zodiacal and planetary signs.
Furthermore, some are simply ornamental and grotesque, like cornucopia, star, the initials of the owner, crescent, hoe or mask.

Trulli - Restoration works

Masonry works
- Complete demolition of the dry stone masonry and of the cone, putting aside the stones that can be reused in the future.
(Sometimes it isn't necessary to demolish the entire cone; if it is in good condition, it is enough to
verify the real state of it and then consolidate the weak parts.)
- Excavation of earth in order to form French drain.
- Careful removal of the existing stone floor and stacking the pieces in the site.
- Removal of all internal plasters.
- Creating door opening or enlarging an existing window in dry stone masonry, including lintel made of local stone.
- Realization of an arc constructed with duly finished limestone ashlar.
- Realization of a limestone wall, reusing the existent stones.
- Realization of a tufa wall, thickness 10 cm.
- Filling up the interstices among the wall stones with white cement and grinded sand from the caves of Fasano.
- Realization of internal plaster, composed of a rendering coat, two layers of rustic plaster and one layer of plaster finish; realization of a traditional fireplace with plain mantelpiece and sides, made of local stone.
- Realization of a new chimney flue made of stone, including the external facing in plaster and a chimney pot made of traditional stone.
- Realization of external plaster composed of a rendering coat, two layers of rustic plaster and two layers of lime slurry paint.
(Some prefer having the external stones visible, without protective plaster.)
€. 17,070

Although not included in the list, sometimes it is better to create a protection between the external masonry of the trullo and the surrounding land, in order to avoid any infiltration of humidity.

- Reconstruction of the internal structure of the cone with limestone blocks and of the external covering, reusing the pieces of stone and integrated with with new pieces.
- Supplying and laying of the vaulted roof for the lamia, made of stone slabs originating from Maglie or Cursi, duly pointed and with
€. 3,056

- Realization of the bathroom including water and sanitary system, floors, facing, sanitary fittings, taps and fittings, boiler and the water distribution system for the kitchen.
€. 13,000

- Supplying and installation of the drainage system with a septic tank, including the excavation of the earth and the installation of the tank.
- Realization of the electrical system encased with pipes in heavy, flexible PVC (polyvinyl chloride), including: single-core cable, switchboard connected to the electricity meter, mains switch.
- General and circuit protections, and earth connection system.
€. 3,400

- Supplying and laying of the floor composed of new and recycled stones, thickness 15 cm, laid on the existing concrete basement and duly patched with grout and powder of grinded, local white stones.
€. 4,125

Carpentry works
- Supplying and installation of: chestnut French doors and windows of traditional design, complete with double glasses, dark interiors, necessary ironmongery, varnished with two layers of enamel painting; internal chestnut doors, thickness 3 cm, of traditional design, complete with necessary ironmongery, varnished with two layers of enamel painting.
€. 8,550

Unforeseen expenses during the works plus technical expenses (+ about 22%) €. 10,799

Total cost of restoration €. 60,000

In relation to the condition of the trulli, the works to be carried out and therefore also the prices to be paid, can vary considerably.

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Ornamental pieces