Trulli of Alberobello (author: Berthold Werner, CC BY-SA 3.0,

The trullo, which descends from the typically Mediterranean building technique of the thòlos, with its recognizable truncated cone shape, is a dry-stone dwelling that arises from the peasants’ knowledge and mind. In order to make the area stony limestone soil cultivable, the peasants had to remove the abundant rock layers in soil and decided to use them as building material. Also the modern traveler, reaching Alberobello, has the impression that he is in a timeless place and in a magical dimension, yet these buildings are quite recent and arise not from magic, but from more practical reasons – precisely, from tax reasons. The trulli of the Apulian Murgia are closely linked to the reputation and black legend of Gian Girolamo Acquaviva d’Aragona, Count of Conversano, known as “Guercio di Puglia” (cross-eyed). The dreaded feudal lord, renowned for his lack of scruples and his very ambitious policy, ruled these territories in the seventeenth century on behalf of the Spanish viceroys. Local tradition has it that the count, greedy for profits, contravening the royal prohibition on building new towns, had allowed for the construction of trulli, to better exploit the agricultural resources of those lands and the peasants’ work. They say that during the royal inspections, the Guercio asked to quickly demolish the cones, built with the dry stone technique and thus easy to be dismantled, and to rebuild them once the Spanish ‘tax assessment’ had finished.

The trulli of Alberobello have on top, in addition to a sculpted pinnacle, strange markings: they are symbols of different nature, some recall pagan and esoteric traditions, whereas others refer to Christian iconography. They are made using limewash directly on the chiancarelle[1], i. e. the stones which make up the conical roof. These markings not only helped distinguish the families owning the trulli, but also took on an apotropaic function: they were believed to ward off the evil eye and favor a good crop. The most common and easily recognizable symbols were the Jewish candelabrum, the symbol of Jesus as the Sun, and Maria’s pierced heart which refers to the Passion. Other pagan symbols that are commonly found on the trulli of Alberobello are the Taurus, Jupiter and Venus.

  1. T.N.: Limestone slabs used in Apulian architecture, especially as covers for the conical roofs of trulli.

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