They were constructed of tufa or limestone without mortar or cement. One of the explanations from the 17th century was so they could be disassembled quickly in order to avoid property tax when the tax assessor made his annual visit.
No one is certain of their origins. They could have been a design of the Mycenaean Greeks who sacked Troy in the 12th century BC. Some claim they came from Crete with King Idomeneus, the son of King Minos and a hero of the Trojan War. Others claim the design came with the Arabs in the 9th century.
They are one of the mysteries and delights of Italy’s Puglia (Apulia) region. The main concentration of Trulli houses is in the Valle d’Itria, the Itria Valley that stretches across the provinces of Bari, Brindisi and Taranto. The valley is famous for olive oil, white wine and the Trulli, possibly the best example of colloquial architecture in Europe.
The highest concentration of these conical hobbit homes is in Alberobello, a small town of around 12,000 people and over 1,500 Trulli. They dot the vista like beehives, their conical roofs decorated with mystical pagan symbols, arrow pierced hearts, sun rays or the Christian symbols of Saints Cosma and Damiano, the patron Saints of Alberobello. The cones are topped with shining pinnacles, oblong, round or triangular.
A walk through the town is like traveling back into another century, or even another world. Most of the homes are privately owned and inhabited. These days they have electricity, heat, televisions and wifi.
There are a few Trulli you can visit, for a small price. The 18th century Trullo Sovrano (1.50 euro entrance) is currently a museum showing the original furnishings of the Sovrano family before they left the house in 1923. This is the only Trullo in Alberobello that has two inhabitable floors.
For 3 euros, you can also visit the Trullo Museum of the Territory, the 18th century house of a Doctor Giacomo Pezzolla. There there are displays showing the origins of the Trulli and some cultural tidbits.
The 15th century Trullo Siamese has two cones conjoined together and decorated with a limestone pagan sun symbol. You can get into the front of the house for free because it’s now a souvenir shop.
It was once owned by two brothers who fell in love with the same woman. She was promised to the firstborn but after she moved into the house, she fell in love with the younger brother. As jealousy and betrayal ensued, each brother tried to evict the other but the house belonged to both and neither would move. They eventually divided the Trullo in half with one entrance in the front and another in the back.
The Trulli of Alberobello are neatly carved into three areas. The Rione Monti, a series of small winding roads up a hillside filled with souvenir shops, restaurants, Trulli houses and the beautiful Trullo style Saint Anthony’s Church at the top of the hill. The Aia Piccola is a more residential zone on the other side of the Via Indipendenza. The 3rd area is around the Piazza Sacramento and the 18th century Italian Baroque Cathedral of Saints Cosma and Damiano with it’s soaring twin bell towers.
Older Trulli are getting renovated, transformed into shops, vacation rentals and second homes. Because this is a UNESCO location (since 1996), Trulli renovations have to adhere to the “Trulli Building Codes”. However, outside of Alberobello you can pretty much do what you like. Some of the 4-5 cone Trulli homes are large and luxurious.
Trulli can start around €50,000 for a small single cone in Alberobello to €350,000 for a multi cone fully restored Trullo with pool on a few acres of land in the countryside. A renovated Trullo will rent for anywhere from $800 for two bedrooms to $5,000 per week for 3-4 bedrooms. The more expensive rentals have wifi, modern luxury and a private pool.