Today we changed up our travel game plan and rented a small car. Visiting the prized villages in the interior really isn’t possible by train and too lugubrious by bus. It was time for us to pick up wheels and ‘free-spirit’ our way across the country! Our first excursion was up to Alrberbello to visit the medieval (or ‘Proto-historic origins….? My thoughts exactly?) Trulli village of quaint circular stone homes with conical stone vaulted ceilings. Kind of cool.
But, before our visit, we had to clear from the apartment. The effort turned out to be less painful with our body bag sized, heavy bags. The ‘Capo’ and ‘Wisdom,’ (or is it ‘Winston’) his ‘all-around man,’ helped carry the bags down the stairs and loaded them into the Capo’s waiting car. The guy magnanimously drove us to the car rental place. Then, after transferring the bags, he led us to the road leading to Arlberbello and pointed us off in the right direction. I’m surprisingly (and pleasantly) amazed at the graciousness, friendliness, and helpfulness of everybody we’ve run into in Italy. He went well above and beyond what we could have expected as renters. I’m just hoping he wasn’t upset with us and wanted to make damned sure we got out of his town! I think not, it was a very gentile gesture on his part, so perhaps he enjoyed us as renters.
We took the scenic drive along the Apulia coast stretching to the North but really didn’t see too much of the ocean as it was screened off by vegetation. The land is reasonably flat with gently rolling hills covered by scrub, low growth vegetation, farms or vineyards, and little villages in between. Northeast of Brindisi, the mountain foothills begin to sprout, and we found ourselves ascending around the winding, country lanes into the Itria Valley of the Murgi Region. It was a pleasant ride except for the local lunatics who sat six inches off our bumper until they could pass (not always safely) at double the speed limit. It’s nerve-wracking at first….but when you figure it’s their lives they’re playing with, you get over it. The landscape began to remind me of Galatia in Spain with the hills, stone field walls, and green pastures, all dotted with small stone homes.
Arlberbello itself seems to be a modern Italian town, but on top of a small plateau, packed away to one side, rests the ancient village of Trulli. Actually, I think the building structure is referred to as a Trulli or (Trullo). The village we visited, with its dense population of Trulli structures, is often referred to as the ‘Capital of Trulli,’ even though it may not have had held that distinction before becoming a popular tourist destination. Many of the structures remain in the region, but this concentration seems to be the best-preserved with its dense cluster of the white circular buildings with the stone vaulted roofs, perched on a hillside. A few small alleys are running up the hill, each lined with the buildings converted into tourist shops. At the top of the hill rests the town church with a 50 foot high stacked stone vaulted ceiling. It’s the same design as the smaller structures, just much higher and more impressive due to its hight. What is even more impressive is that these structures, several hundreds of years old, are comprised of stacked stones without the use of any adhesives like cement.
There’s a story on-line explaining why they built the homes the way they did – economy! Apparently, taxes were collected on homes based on the number of roofs the structure elevated. The people of the region contrived a technique to ‘game the system’ by building these conical roofs by stacking and wedging stones on top of each other until they reached their supporting apex; without the aid of glues or cement. This way, when the Tax-Man came to count, they could easily disassemble the roof and claim to have none. Tax avoidance scams seem to be a pastime worldwide and for understandable reasons! I don’t know if this story is true, but I read it on-line, so it must be.
Trulli was worth about an hour and a half visit, and that’s what we gave it. It was packed with visitors and just had the touristic feel to it that we’ve avoided in most other places. We learned that the town is such a novelty that tourism goes on most of the year. The apartment Capo said he loves the town and often vacations there when he can. Apparently, its a local Italian favorite place to visit. With so many places to visit, that’s saying a lot.