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Alberobello, the fairy tale town of southern Italy you've surely missed

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Alberobello is a small town in the Apulia region of southern Italy, famous due to its remarkable trulli districts.

These drywall, white-washed constructions with their iconic conical roofs were made a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1996, and have since made the town an interesting stop for tourists from around the world visiting Italy.

Although it is only one of 51 sites of UNESCO in Italy alone, Alberobello’s trulli are a truly unique sight, creating a picturesque landscape of small and white and grey pyramidal huts amongst the old town’s narrow and winding streets and Mediterranean vegetation.

Though the mortarless building technique dates as far back as the Prehistoric era, most trulli in the town date from as early as c.1350, allowing visitors to be transported to another time. Many of them were built later however, under instructions from Count Gian Girolamo II. A law at the time known as the Pragmatic De Baronibus, established that feudal lords must pay tributes to the Court if they were to establish urban centres.

The popular legend has it that, in order to avoid such taxations, the Count instructed the farmers who had migrated there to construct their shelters from the calcareous material locally available, and this without the use of mortar.

This meant that when the town was inspected by royal envoys from the Kingdom of Naples – back before the unification of Italy into a single nation – to judge whether taxes should be paid, the shelters could be demolished easily and rebuilt as quickly once they left.

Reports of a first demolition of the settlement date as early as 1644, the first of many. Also because of how easy construction of these trulli was, less stable structures that would sometimes be damaged, would simply be knocked down and rebuilt, rather than repaired.

Despite reasons of olden day tax evasion, historians generally agree that the primary cause for the existence of trulli was due to the geographical conditions of the area, which was plentiful in these calcareous sedimentary materials. Alberobello’s trulli are still praised today as one of the finest examples of bioarchitecture in existence, that is to say that the design and the construction process of these buildings is considered ecologically friendly, as well as durable.

The purchase of surviving trulli is particularly popular amongst British and German tourists, to then be restored according to strict regulations under UNESCO World Heritage law. Because of this, in 2009 the cost a rebuilding a trullo’s roof according to guidelines was around fifteen thousand euros. Arguably for some however, this is a small price to pay to own such a distinct piece of history. In an interesting contrast, local residents in the Alberobello region who still live in trulli apparently do so because they cannot afford to move out, or because they require the income provided by offering bed and board for tourists in their homes.

Evidently, the principle activity for tourists in Alberobello is wandering around the trulli districts, though as in many Italian towns there are also a few small museums, local artisanal shops selling souvenirs and local produce, restaurants to be visited and wine tours to be done. The centre of town does little to differ from typical southern Italian towns, though buildings are sometimes interspaced with a few trulli. The most interesting parts of town for tourists however, are the two districts, Rione Monti and Aia Piccola. Rione Monti, featuring over a thousand trulli, is delicately placed on a slope facing the modern-day town centre, and is full of local vendors selling painted terracotta whistles, an apparent Puglia specialty, and kitsch souvenirs of all sorts shaped like trulli.

Contrary to probable expectations considering tourist-trap feel of the area, the prices are reportedly not extortionate, due to the large amount of competition amongst vendors which keeps prices in check. The other area, Aia Piccola is less visited due to the fact it is still primarily a residential area of inhabited trulli, but still presents 590 trulli.

Alberobello lends itself ideally to a day-trip along a broader exploration of Italy, or if one is lucky enough to be able to stay in a trullo, is a romantic and charming town in which to relax for a few days.

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