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Alberobello: Italian village boasts 'trulli' unique homes

By SANDRA JONTZ | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 8, 2011

Its name means “beautiful tree,” but the main attraction of the picturesque enclave of Alberobello, Italy, has nothing to do with flora.

Oh sure, there are beautiful trees there, especially the magnolia trees, and other trees’ branches seem to sprout just about every color imaginable when in bloom — but it’s the conical, beehive-shaped homes and buildings that attract most tourists to the small town in the southeastern region of Apulia.

The trulli, as the structures are called, are based on a 13th-century design. They were constructed without mortar, using whitewashed limestone boulders collected from nearby fields and topped with fieldstone roofs in the shape of a dome or upside-down ice cream cone.

While Alberobello is not the only town in the Apulia region with trulli, it does have the greatest concentration of them. Residents adorn the slate rooftops with a variety of decorative symbols that represent anything from family monograms to magical belief systems and religious preferences such as paganism or Christianity.

Theories for the unique construction vary. One notion is that the easily (also cheaply) constructed homes were viewed as substandard, and thus indicative of peasantry and poverty. While they were fine for everyday purposes, town officials could have them easily dismantled to avoid embarrassment if members of the royal family passed by.

Another had less to do with pride and more to do with pocketbooks. That theory links the construction to the Moors settling in the area and building homes and storehouses with readily available materials while using construction methods that avoided use of mortar and permanent roofing. This technique made it possible to take down the structures when tax collectors rolled into town.

Whatever the reason, the buildings proved effective, and some of the construction techniques are still used.

And today’s government officials aren’t lamenting any loss of income from those likely tax evaders. The region’s surviving trulli — there are roughly 1,500 — help make Alberobello a UNESCO World Heritage site.

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, which helps preserve world cultural sites, the town, which dates from the mid-14th century, was designated as “an exceptional example of a form of building construction deriving from prehistoric construction techniques that have survived intact and functioning into the modern world.”

As a result, the town draws tourists with their dollars — or in this case, euros, as most tourists tend to be Italians — who come to stroll through the town and see the odd-looking buildings with the strange past.

jontzs@estripes.osd.mil

On the QT

Directions

From the Naples area, take Autostrada 3 toward Bari/Salerno until it intersects with A16 (toll road) and follow it toward Bari. Near Cerignola, pick up A14 toward Andria. Take exit Acquaviva delle Fonti toward SP125, and then follow signs for Turi/Putignanao/Castellana Grotte/Conversano/Casamassima/Rutigliano/Sammichele di Bari. Follow the ramp to Taranto/Gioia del Colle. Merge on SS100 and follow signs toward Noci. Follow signs to Alberobello.

Times

It’s a town, so it’s open all the time, but the best times to visit are spring and summer. For the most part, tourist and souvenir shops are open from about 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily (sometimes later in the summer months), with some closing for afternoon siesta, usually between 1 and 4 p.m. The town has a handful of museums, including the Museo del Territorio, a collection on local culture located in a complex of a dozen or so trulli; it is open 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 3:30 to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

Costs

Entrance to the Museo del Territorio costs 3 euros per person, 2 euros for certain groups and is free for ages 10 and younger.

Food

All around, from sandwich shops to a few restaurants.

Information

The tourist office at Via Monte Nero 3 is open 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 2:30-5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 2:30-8:30 p.m. Sundays. Its telephone number is 080-432-4419, and its e-mail is assessore
turismo@comune.alberobello.ba.it or
settoreturismo@comune.alberobello.ba.it. The museum offers maps, guides and audio guides in several languages.
 

Flowers seem to always be in bloom in Alberobello, which means "beautiful tree." However, it's the uniquely conical shaped homes that are the main tourist attraction at the fairytale-like town in the southern Apulia region of Italy.
SANDRA JONTZ/STARS AND STRIPES

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