A short drive from where we were staying in Monopoli is the town of Alberobello. Alberobello has always fascinated me and been on my visit wish list for a long time. I’m intrigued by the fact that these unique conical structures, trulli, appeared in this one area and nowhere else in Italy. You’ll see the occasional trulli (trullo for singular?) in a field somewhere when you are driving around, but Alberobello is a concentrated town of them, with over 1,000 trulli.
Folklore has it that originally the trulli were built without mortar for the purpose of disassembly when the tax collector came around, as tax had to be paid on permanent structures. If this is true, then the Italian penchant for tax evasion goes back very far indeed. These days they are all permanent structures, many turned into shops, some into hotels, though some are still individual homes. I just love the uniqueness and gorgeousness of it. It was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1996.
We came across the workshop of these two gentlemen who were making small replica trulli by hand. Some were out of random stone and then painted, but some were made out of actual trulli stone. One of the Small People was particularly enchanted by Alberobello and used some of his trip pocket money to buy one. Once home, the trulli were used for a design project assignment he had at school.
We went in the morning and found it ok – apparently it does get quite busy and crowded from lunchtime onwards.
While in Puglia we also drove to the neighbouring region of Basilicata to visit Matera, another UNESCO World Heritage site. The drive was about an hour and fifty minutes, allowing for a little confusion from our GPS; she wasn’t having a great day that day. But the roads were good and it was a pleasant drive. It is fairly inland so was about 8 degrees (Celsius) hotter than the Puglia coast – so again a morning visit is recommended and I was glad that we had set off early. It is also quite hilly and needs a good amount of walking so a fitness test as well as a cultural eye opener.
So what is special about Matera? After Petra in Jordon, it is believed to be the second longest continuously habited place in the world. But it’s not only this, it’s the fact that the homes of the town – or rather caves – were carved into the limestone rock. The Passion of the Christ and Ben Hur were both filmed here.
The extraordinary church at the top dominates the landscape and a walk up there is inevitable.
One of the homes had been replicated as per the 1700s. It was quite fascinating to hear about how they lived; we could certainly learn a thing or two about waste which was hugely frowned upon. Large families (six or more children was not uncommon) lived in these small spaces, some of them even housing animals, largely horses, which would be a source of warmth in the winter. The horse excrement would go down a hole, which was also used to create heat. If a plate cracked, it was repaired rather than thrown out. And at mealtimes the entire family would eat out of one large platter. While each family would prepare their own bread dough, it would be taken to a central baking spot for all to be cooked, each family having their own unique stamp so their loaf could be recognised.
There are also a few churches scattered throughout.
Throughout the 1900s, Matera was known for extreme poverty and also disease so the government gradually re-housed many of the inhabitants. Gradually the area was re-generated, and people began to move back in. Like Alberobello, in the 1990’s it was named a World Heritage site, attracting tourism and helping the area’s revival.
We really enjoyed both of these special places.