HIDDEN among the muted green fields of the southern Italian countryside lies a curious little village lost in time. Wandering through the maze of its narrow, cobblestoned streets, it’s easy to feel as though you’ve being transported back to a nostalgic era of simple country life. But this is no ordinary village. The whitewashed houses, or “trulli”, of Alberobello are characterised by their peculiar cone-like roofs – built brick by brick without mortar.
The southern Italian region of Puglia has long been a popular holiday destination for sun and sand seeking Antipodeans. Known for its beautiful beaches, temperate climate and amazing cuisine, tourists are often too preoccupied with the region’s coastline to venture into the area’s inland treasures. Yet it’s hard to deny the appeal of the perfectly uniform, pyramid-shaped roofs that rise out of the hillsides of Alberobello.
This unique village has been marked an UNESCO world heritage site for its example of prehistoric building techniques used in houses still inhabited today. The oddly-shaped structures clustered around the town’s historical centre are certainly a sight to behold, but on further inspection an even more intriguing feature comes to light. Various symbols, some in the form of crucifixes, others of hearts and suns, are etched into the roofs of many of the houses, originally placed there in the expectation of bringing protection and luck to those who dwelled within.
These designs give the already archaic-looking site an almost magical feel – which is definitely taken advantage of by the local merchants. Some of the trulli are open to the public for visits, either as museums showcasing medieval tools and furniture, or as shops and restaurants. But for a truly authentic experience, the eager tourist should book a trullo for the night. Many of these unusual houses are owned by the local townspeople and have been refurbished and made available to rent for as little as 50 euros per person per night.
The motives that inspired this unique method of constructing houses remain a mystery, and many theories exist as to why they were built without mortar. Local tradition explains that the houses were built in this way so that they could be quickly dismantled at will. For example if a tax-evading townsperson was building a house and a tax collector happened to be passing through the neighbourhood, they would lasso a rope around the structure and quickly be able to pull it down, only to begin rebuilding it when the danger of being dumped with a tax for new settlements had passed.
An enchanting village of mystery and intrigue, Alberobello certainly is a not-to-be-missed stop on any holiday-goer’s southern Italian tour.