Trulli, masseria and other unique house styles you can only find in Puglia
What’s the first image that comes to mind when you think of Puglia?
The turquoise waters? The tiny villages perched on a cliff’s edge? Or is it the Baroque churches?
More often than not, any mention of Puglia conjures images of trulli, the cone-shaped homes that are unique to Puglia.
There’s more to Puglia than trulli, however, even when it comes to traditional architectural styles. You can find different accommodation types, all equally charming in their own way.
That’s why our road trip holidays include stays at trulli, masseria, agriturismo or bed & breakfast, each one hand-picked by us, so that you can fully experience Puglia during your vacation.
There are 4 main accommodation types: case a corte, the aforementioned trulli, masseria and the tiny white-washed houses found in small towns all over Puglia.
Let’s take a look at each of them in detail.
Case a corte: Puglia’s answer to the Spanish courtyard houses
Strolling down the narrow, shaded alleys you find in many towns in Puglia, you might be tricked into thinking that even the houses lining the streets are narrow and dark. What you don’t see, however, is that some of the doors hide beautiful courtyards. A pocket of light, a respite from the hustle and bustle of the main street, these courtyards now appear peaceful and the perfect setting for al-fresco dinner but they used to busy with activity from dawn to sunset.
The men would head to the fields with their horse-drawn cart (usually parked in the courtyard), while the women would stay at home. Until the sun set, the courtyard became the kingdom of women and children. They would first fetch clean, fresh water from the well, also found in the courtyard. They’d make bread and then start washing the clothes so that they could air dry under the sun during the day.
And then the courtyards fills with voices, humming, songs and perfumes. That of fragrant fruits and vegetables in the garden. Of olive oil simmering in the hearth. Of tomatoes drying away in the sun. Of freshly-washed linens caressed by the breeze.
After lunch, other women come to visit and the sewing (and gossiping!) starts, while the children play campana (hopscotch), paddhi and curuddha.
And when the sun sets, the entire family gathers around a hearty meal and stories (cunti and culacchi) are told to the younger ones.
It was a hive, a sheltered little world where to find refuge in the community. The samportu (the “driveway”) was the passage to another world, a threshold not many residents would cross often. That’s why many houses would have a mignano, a balcony that allowed women to keep up with what was going on in town and observe the coming and going.
A few generations would live here at the same time, the grandparents, their children, the nephews and nieces and sometimes their children too.
The rooms were small, 7 meters by 5 and not connected to one another. Storage, stables and other work environments could be found side by side to bedrooms and dining rooms.
Nowadays you can still find case a corte in the towns of Martano, Martignano, Tricase as well as other towns including Lecce, Gallipoli and Nardò, which you can visit on our tours. In Lecce, for example, you can get a glimpse of an old casa a corte stopping at Arco di Prato.
You’ll need to use your imagination though, as very few traces of the past remain visible today, usually only the beautiful staircases leading to the mignano and the ornate samportu stood the test of time.
Masseria: fortified farmhouses presiding olive groves and orchards
If you have seen the photos of Madonna frolicking in Puglia or Jessica Biel and Justin Timberlake’s 2012 wedding, you may already be familiar with what a masseria is. This stunning farmhouses, unique to Puglia, have become quite fashionable as of lately and it’s not hard to understand why. Secluded and surrounded by miles of farmland, they’re the perfect setting for rest and relaxation. Back in the day, however, there weren’t many opportunities for rest and relaxation around here, unless you were the owner and even then you had to supervise the estate.
The first masseria date back to the middle ages and resembled little castles, with high walls and towers as tall as 20 meters. This is not surprising, Puglia was the stage for constant battles. Its strategic position and the fertile land made it a target for many invaders like the Ostrogoths, Byzantines, Longbards, Saracens, Aragonese and the Swabians.
After the unification of Italy, the peril didn’t come from abroad but from the disgruntled inhabitants who became briganti (highwaymen) in order to survive.
So you see why these farms were fortified and the most formidable way the residents employed to defend themselves was boiling oil, the same oil they got from the olive trees they grew.
The lower ground was home to the animals, storage and other rooms dedicated to working the land or tending to the animals, while the upper floors were for people.
The owner wouldn’t usually reside here, leaving a massaro in charge, who would then have other people working under him.
At the end of the 19th century however, more and more landowners decided to live at their masseria and this is when significant changes to the architecture were introduced. Having lived in town, the rich families tried to make the humble masseria a palace and more ornamental elements were added. Striking the perfect balance between rustic and urban elegance, these masseria are amongst the most beautiful you can get to see in Puglia. If in the past these estates would breed animals or produce olive oil and sometimes wine, today only the last two are more common. Even more common are the masseria turned hotels, offering a rural escape among history and nature. A stay at a masseria is an unmissable experience if you visit Puglia and that’s why we included it in our tours.
Puglia’s small towns and their houses
Italy is a narrow peninsula, which means land is scarce and when it comes to building houses, ingenuity is the best tool available.
Small is often undermined in favor of big, but there’s virtue in small. Small is easily defendable, small allows community to grow, small is quicker to build.
Small towns can be found all over Italy but in Northern and central Italy they look so different to the ones you find in the South. Here they preside over a rugged landscape of olive groves and vineyards, with the deep blue seduction of the Mediterranean awaiting beyond. Balconies are bejeweled with lush greenery, and paved alleys lead down to picturesque pebbled beaches or golden fields. The white walls, which you seldom find north of Rome, resplend in that bright sun that never seems to set in Summer.
The most common construction materials are tuff, brick and clay. Tuff is mainly used for the external finishing of balconies or gates. In some areas Lecce stone, a local material, prevails.
The houses are often on more than one level and tiny, with stairs crossing the façade that connect the street to the apartments on the upper floors.
The Roman legacy of cardo and decumano, roads perpendicular to one another, gets completely lost in the middle ages when the inhabitants of most of these small towns start building their homes in sturdier materials, rather than huts. The peace the Romans guaranteed was lost, invaders came from the sea and the mountains, being able to protect your family was now essential.
Ostuni is a clear example, with its defensive walls, the main road that encloses the entire town, the houses leaning against each other to use all the space available, were all built around the year 1000 A.D. (and still largely visible to this date). The narrow alleys offer a refuge from the heat and nowadays, the chaos of cars and buses.
Another example is Polignano a Mare, a town built into a cliff overlooking the Mediterranean. A maze of cobbled narrow alleys, arches, staircases, and atmospheric piazzas – awash in dazzling white. The scent of the sea pervades the streets, carried by the balmy Summer wind that turns into a breeze in the afternoon or early morning, gently pushing the sailboats that complete so well the panoramas you get to see from most of the windows. Come evening, soak up the sunset on your home’s terrace and savor a cocktail while watching the last fishing boats head back to shore –possibly with the night’s culinary catch.
Both towns are included in our tours.
Trulli: Puglia’s most iconic architecture style
Last but least, these cone-roofed houses turned the town of Alberobello into an Instagram star. Well before internet stardom, the town was, however, already listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Here you find hundreds but not one is alike. Most of them are independent, but sometimes they’re side by side in a complex of communicating dwellings. Most have a grey cone-shaped roof topped by an ornamental hemisphere.
The interior, one room, has niches for the fireplace, the bed and the various furnishings, even though some trulli are split into two levels. The walls make the room cool in Summer and warm in winter, creating a cool house in summer and welcoming in winter.
To build a trullo you need the same tools that are used to make a drywall: the normal hammer and the six-tooth hammer, both are used to square and finish the stones. First you have to dig in order to find solid ground for the foundations; then you raise the stone walls in a round or cubic shape; finally you build the cone of the trullo by placing the stones on top of each other in a circle, narrowing it more and more as you go along. The roof is covered with chiancarelle, slabs of limestone inclined in a way so that the rainwater does not enter the trulli but flows down. The final step is the limestone plaster.
The trulli date back to the 14th century, even though there were buildings in a similar shape even back in the Neolithic. They’re not the only buildings with that shape, in Puglia you can also find two variants, the lamie and pajare.
More than one generation would live and work in a trullo, often along the animals, so it was quite cozy you can imagine!
Staying in a trullo is a truly unique experience if you visit Puglia and that’s why we included it in our tours.