Trulli of Puglia: the ultimate guide

Trulli are traditional conical dry stone buildings of Puglia. In this article we will try to provide an overview of its historical and contemporary value, answering questions like: why and when were they born? What are their characteristics? How were they used in the past and how are they used today? How to enhance a Trullo?
Read here to find out everything there is to know about the Trulli of Puglia.

1. History and origin of Trulli in Puglia

The origins and dating of the Trulli in Puglia is still today the subject of study and a very controversial  topic. The dry stone buildings, as an architectural typology, date back to prehistoric times and are present in many areas of the earth. They are simple and primitive makeshift shelters, stone huts with a circular base.Trulli of Puglia origin

 

Wanting to go back to the term “Trullo[1], many studies take us back to 1500 BC, when the Greek-classical name “tholoi” indicated a dome placed on a tomb, or even with the Latin term “turris” with its variants, used to indicate a small cone-shaped tower.
The controversy in the dating and origin of the Trulli in Puglia derives from the presence in Turkey of the village of Harran[2] made up of thousands of Trulli. This village, built a thousand years ago in the period of the Byzantine occupation of Puglia, suggests the possibility that some communities established in Puglia, have brought the architecture of Trullo buildings from abroad. This circumstance would therefore invalidate the hypothesis of the origin of the Trulli in Puglia in 1500 BC.

Over the years, the primordial Trulli in Puglia have progressively improved, transforming themselves fromTrulli of puglia history makeshift shelters into functional homes and distinguishing themselves from other similar architectural types. In fact, due to their continuity of use and diffusion, and for economic, social and cultural reasons, the Trulli in Puglia have developed with much more advanced architectural features than the other Trulli present in the rest of the world, becoming a real architectural heritage.

However, if the dry-built conical shape has such an ancient origin, it is undoubtedly because it has its concrete benefits. Despite to ensuring a very effective collection of rainwater, the excellent ventilation, due to the permeability and thickness of the walls and the shape of the roof, protects the Trulli from external thermal excursions, ensuring a stable temperature inside. Warm in winter and cool in summer, the interiors of the Trulli were optimized down to the last centimetre, each space with its function.

The Trulli of Alberobello

As for the Trulli of Alberobello, there is a very special story that is worth mentioning. The territory of Alberobello, which now houses about 1500 Trulli in its historic centre, was donated to the Counts of Conversano as a prize for their help by Ferdinand of Aragon around the sixteenth century. Ambitious and ready to do anything to get rich, the Counts repopulated the lands now known as ‘Alberobello’ by ordering farmers to build their homes with the abundant limestone that is rich in the area. With their circular shape, the Trulli had to be built dry, without mortar, in order to allow them to be easily dismantled and reassembled and thus avoid paying the ‘building tax‘ imposed by the Kingdom of Naples.

trulli alberobello
Alberobello is the only town whose historic centre is made up of Trulli
[3], however Trulli as residential and non-residential buildings are present in countryside of the center of Puglia, in a rather large area but which finds its centre and maximum diffusion in the Itria Valley.

[1] In Italian, Trullo is the singular term while Trulli is plural. However, in common parlance Trullo can mean either a single cone unit or a complex of cones forming a house. Therefore, a house made up of several cones can be defined as both Trulli and Trullo.
[2] Harran is not the only site in the world where we find the exact same shape of the Trulli. There are also some examples in Syria, near Aleppo for example.
[3] Until the 50s there were also Trulli in the historic centre of Villa Castelli, but they were demolished to make room for new buildings.

2. Characteristics of the Trulli of Puglia

Brilliant example of spontaneous architecture, the Trullo is built on a solid base (the walls are very thick) from which the heavy lime masonry starts. Ancient construction techniques give life to a structure which, although without supporting elements, has an extraordinary static capacity.
The plan of the Trullo is usually circular and the interiors are distributed around the central room. The trullo atena puglia paradisethickness of the walls and the few, small windows ensure an optimal thermal balance. Very important for architectural purposes is the keystone, often closed by a decorative pinnacle with esoteric, spiritual or propitiatory symbols.
The ledge protruding from the roof was designed to collect rainwater in special underground cisterns while the external steps allowed the cones to be filled from above with straw and wheat. The building materials were poor, in fact in the Trulli of Puglia there is no trace of cement but only mortar and local limestone.

Cool in summer and warm in winter?

The hot Apulian summers, with a dry climate and sometimes almost torrid temperatures do not make the Trulli humid and muggy. Cool and dry, the interiors of the Trulli maintain a mild temperature also thanks to the traditional materials. The calcareous nature of the local stones of the Itria Valley, in fact, makes the building dry and airy, without the use of cement and mortar.
This thermoregulatory action, which ensures that even in winter the Trullo does not get too cold, is based on another characteristic element: the thickness of the walls. The interiors of the Trulli are easy to heat, because the thickness of the walls – which can reach up to two meters in width – can retain heat in all environments.

3. How to renovate the Trulli

The Apulian Trullo represents one of the most extraordinary examples of rural architecture: its birth in ancient times, as already mentioned, is closely linked to the massive presence of limestone formations in the trulli of puglia renovationarea, which contributed to the spread of this unique building in the world. Centuries have passed and many of the Trulli that we find in the Apulian landscape need restoration: very delicate work that require a deep knowledge of the Trulli. This is why for their renovation it is advisable to rely on the so-called “Mastri Trullari”: real stone craftsmen, the only ones who, from a simple pile of stones, manage to come up with an architectural masterpiece admired all over the world.

Let’s try to understand, more specifically, what are the renovation techniques of the Trulli.
In ancient times, the Trulli in Puglia were built with stones found on the site, thus varying from area to area, however they are mainly semi-hard limestone. Today, when we are preparing to build a Trullo from scratch, or when entire parts of a Trullo have to be rebuilt, we turn to local quarries, keeping the technique unchanged: so for the cone of a Trullo we only use chiancarelle[4] handmade worked, which are tilted and overlapped in order to facilitate the flow of water. For this purpose, the last stones are often shaped “in channel” to collect rainwater in the underground cistern.
In the renovation of a Trullo, it is often used a technique which consists of “unstitching” – that is, dismantling small pieces of cone – and “stitching”, that is, reassembling piece by piece by integrating or working the chianche where necessary. It involves recovering the various pieces and then reconstructing the damaged area with the materials removed; the waste material acts as a filling between the chianche so as to ensure thermal insulation. This technique allows the structure to be reconstructed without altering shapes and sizes.

To renovate the roof, the first thing to do is to remove the chiancarelle and check the condition of the cone. Then we proceed with the reassembly after having worked (if necessary) the chiancarelle by hand. We start from the base of the cone, arranging the stones in concentric horizontal rings, without the aid of wooden forms. Each stone is placed in such a way as to fit between the two sides, tilting them slightly to facilitate the flow of water. Finally, we proceed with the plastering of the base of the pinnacle (the tip of the Trullo) and its fixing.
Since these are buildings that have existed for centuries, the best way is that of traditional processing. This leads to an imperfect work but this is precisely the value. All the Trulli will present the hammer blow of those who worked the stones, making the Trullo unique and therefore precious. The manual processing methods are complex, hard and difficult to practice, but they are also the only ones that enhance the spectacular nature of dry stone, making the Trullo eternal.

Mistakes to avoid when renovating a Trullo

The reasons behind the fears that one has when deciding to renovate a Trullo are many and varied: not knowing exactly what the final result will be, the fear of unexpected events, the uncertainty due to not having a sure end work date or the final amount that will be spent. This is why we have collected a list of mistakes to avoid when undertaking the renovation of a Trullo.

  1. Haste: when renovating a Trullo, the anxiety of finishing quickly is the worst enemy. You should not be in a hurry either in carrying out the work, much less in the preliminary phase of design, definition of the work, choice of the work company and so on. Better to waste a little more time looking for the best solution, weighing everything well, rather than having to stop after work has begun because some things were not planned.
  2. Relying on the wrong people: Trulli are dry-built structures where most of the work is done mistake renovation trullomanually. This requires a great deal of experience and considerable expertise. So choose the company very carefully. Often in an attempt to save money, we choose who offers us the best quote, but it is good to evaluate the reliability of the company and its adequacy with respect to the type of work to be performed.
  3. Change the façade of a Trullo: there are ultra-centenary Trulli of Puglia, which have survived centuries of change, so before changing the façade of a Trullo think twice and, if you really want to do it, have someone competent do it.
  4. Unless it is a matter of ruins with completely collapsed cones, instead of stripping the entire cone and redoing it, it is advisable to try to reuse the original material as much as possible where possible, replacing only when necessary with new stones worked however always by hand.
  5. Do not revolutionize the interiors: the rooms must remain as faithful as possible to the original. Attention: never use cement mortars for plastering.

trullo febe top trulli house pugliaWhen it comes to buying a Trullo, people often opt to invest in one to be renovated. Facing a restructuring, in fact, has its advantages:

  • Allows you to customize the home according to your needs and tastes
  • It allows to obtain some tax advantages
  • It ensures – in most cases – better energy efficiency and greater thermal insulation.
  • It may be economically cheaper than buying a renovated property.

But how much does it cost to renovate a Trullo?

Generally, the cost of the turnkey renovation of a Trullo is around € 1.500/2.000 per square meter. This amount usually includes:

  • the renovation of the cones
  • excavations, cavities and crawl spaces
  • masonry works: renovation of arches, construction of connecting rooms, emptying of walls, straightening of internal and external walls; plasters, stone sandblasting
  • construction of the sewer, water, electrical and thermal systems
  • laying of floors and other coverings

Excluded from this amount, of course, materials, fixtures, floors, coating materials, sanitary ware, etc.

[4] The chianche and the chiancarelle are limestone slabs. They differ in thickness: the chiancarelle are thinner. In particular, the stone slabs used to compose the floors are called chianche, while the smaller ones that make up the external part of the cone of the Trullo are called “chiancarelle“.

4. Expanding a Trullo

Whether the Trullo is the gift of an inheritance or the result of an investment, we often find ourselves facing the need to add rooms to the original building: the goal is to expand the Trullo – sometimes too small to meet the needs of a family – without revolutionize the original architecture.extension trullo puglia
But how to proceed with the expansion of a Trullo?
Naturally, the extension projects of the Trulli must be coherent and respectful of the landscape constraints. An example is the Regional Territorial Landscape Plan which, for example, does not authorize – in the renovation and extension of a Trullo – the use of materials not included in its guidelines (tuff, hollow tiles, concrete, etc).
The first step to verify that you can proceed with the extension of a Trullo is to consult the House Plan (Piano Casa) of the Puglia Region: The House Plan provides that the extension must not exceed 20% of the volume of the existing Trullo and must be carried out with the use of techniques in continuity with traditional construction and aesthetic characteristics.

Additions and extensions must meet certain indications, such as:

  • the external walls must be finished with a white paint, possibly with lime or stone finish, with white grouting;
  • the following things are not allowed: wall cages of Trulli, painting or plastering with mortar or concrete of the roofs of the Trulli and, in general, the use of materials other than stone for the Trullo or “Cummersa”[5] roofs.

Tolerable additions to existing Trulli are for example:

  • Trullo construction from scratch within the limits set by the regulations;
  • Cummerse within the limits set by the regulations;
  • iron or wooden pergolas, painted white, with uprights possibly also in stone, adequately calibrated in their size;

We advise you, however, before planning extensions, elevations or demolition and reconstruction

interventions, to check with the Municipality’s technical office for the existence of particular constraints to be respected that are more restrictive than the House Plan

[5] The Cummerse are constructions similar to Trulli but instead of having a conical roof, they have a sloping roof. The materials used are the same as the Trulli and are often found in residential complexes mixed with these. The town with the highest concentration of Cummerse is Locorotondo, as it is possible to see by observing its skyline from the road to Martina Franca.

5. Trulli as an investment

More and more people, both resident in Puglia and coming from other regions of Italy or even from abroad, decide to invest in a Trullo that ensures the possibility of living in a unique building surrounded by nature. Also thanks to the arrival, in the past decade, of low cost airlines such as Ryanair in Bari and Brindisi, the interest of foreigners in Trulli has increased exponentially: some, in fact, have chosen them as a Trullo Ermes Top trulli houses Pugliasecond home to spend their holidays, others as a source of income by transforming them into accommodation villas. Still others keep bewitched by the magical atmosphere of Puglia and decide to move permanently. However, besides to the emotional factor, the purchase of typical properties, such as the Trulli, represents a safe and sought-after investment, which finds in the countryside of the municipalities of Martina Franca, Locorotondo, Cisternino, Alberobello, Fasano, Ostuni and Ceglie Messapica its best expression. Prices vary based on the location (Ostuni among the most expensive, Ceglie Messapica among the cheapest), the number of cones and the conditions of the Trulli.

To us today it may seem almost obvious, but in reality the Trulli have been converted as B & B or villas to rent to tourists in relatively recent times. It has only been for a few decades that tourists from the rest of Italy or the world have been able to live the unique experience to sleep in a Trullo, in fact until the 70’s / 80’s it was unthinkable that dark and small stone houses could take on such a value and charm. However, restoring an ancient complex of Trulli to transform them into an accommodation facility is a goal that many have set out to achieve in recent years.

The Puglia Region has supported this type of building and economic conversion through some measures including Title II Chapter 6 “Aid for investments by SMEs in the tourism area”. If you own properties that are of artistic and historical-architectural interest and want to convert them into tourist facilities, then here you can find some useful information
First of all, the Puglia Region finances the consolidation, restoration and conservative rehabilitation of rural buildings, masserie (housefarms), Trulli, towers, fortifications in order to transform them into tourist accommodations. It is admissible the expansion, modernization and restructuring of tourist structures, including service structures functional to the performance of the activity as well as interventions aimed at overcoming architectural barriers, at technological renewal and updating, and improvement of environmental impact.

Puglia Region also finances the purchase of the Trulli, as long as the sale took place at market conditions. The acquiring company on the date of submission of the loan application must be duly constituted and registered in the Register of Companies. For more information, you can contact the experts of Puglia Paradise, a leading company in the short-term rental market in Puglia, who will be able to give you useful advice for “Buy to Let” operations.

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