In the Puglia region of Italy, you’ll be fascinated to see strange traditional stone built homes with conical roofs, painted white and resembling beehives. These are trullo (the plural is trulli), built with thick stone walls to keep them cool in summer and warm in winter.
The construction of a trullo is fairly unique in Europe as they were generally built from any random limestone lying around but without mortar. Every stone in the conical roof depends on the ‘key’ stone to prevent the roof from caving in. With all building materials freely available for nothing, we might assume that this clever form of construction was merely a clever way of producing a cheap home. Wrong!
During the Seventeenth century, the rapacious nobility, always on the lookout for another way of extracting the last cent from the poor peasant, came up with the bright idea of a property tax. A few hours before the tax inspector arrived for his pound of flesh, what did the crafty trullo owner do? He merely pulled out the keystone and the only evidence of his home was a pile of rubble. Presumably after numerous demolitions the owners became quite adept at rapid reconstruction. Many trulli have curious iron rings embedded in the roof, these were supposedly to facilitate the rapid demolition.
Most trulli have only one room, with additional space created from arched alcoves. Children would sleep in wall niches covered by a curtain. However there are many trulli with two, three or even more cones, representing the wealth of their respective owners.
With increasing social mobility during the last century and a gradual drift of country dwellers from rural to urban life, many trulli were abandoned and left to decay. Happily, in recent years, there has been a revival of interest in the trulli and many have now been carefully reconstructed as ‘luxury’ holiday homes for well-heeled Brits and Germans.
One other curiosity about the trulli is that many have strange symbols or letters painted on their roofs in lime. Their meanings vary from magical symbols to ward off the ‘evil eye’ to religious good luck symbols, both Christian and pagan.
The best place to see trulli is the town of Alberobello has over 400 trulli and is now a major tourist destination.