You can find the town of Alberobello a bit inland from the port of Bari, on the east coast of Italy (just above the heel of the boot). Alberobello includes a large number of trulli, or traditional whitewashed stone buildings, each capped by a conical dome made of stacked flat stones. The stone domes are assembled without mortar, usually in an inner layer and an outer layer, with the outer layer tilted slightly outward to protect against rain.

Conical trulli roofs in the town of Alberobello, Italy.

Although we saw several trulli by the ones, twos, and threes along the route to Alberobello, we saw dozens of them sitting in close proximity in the old part of town. They cluster along stone-paved streets, as you can see in the photo above. Fields around town look like red clay with lots and lots of limestone cobbles, rocks, and slabs sticking up through the soil. Farmers pick rocks from the soil to build stone fences around the fields (see fences in the background of the photo below), yet it looks like a new rock comes up to take the place of every rock pulled out of the soil. I don’t envy whomever tries to plow the fields!

An elaborate stand-alone trullo (trulli is the plural of trullo) hut, built for sake of the tourists.

The trullo shown above provided a good example of the builder’s art. Most of the trulli did not have a staircase up the outside like this one, nor did they have such elaborate doorways. The layers of stone kept the interior cool in summer, but probably did not hold a lot of warmth in the winter. The original designs were heated with fireplaces, which are not very efficient as space heaters.

Inside view looking up into the conical trullo roof.

Perhaps the most interesting feature of trulli is that they were designed to be collapsible. As the story goes, a regional ruler decided to tax permanent structures like homes and businesses. The locals had plenty of stones to build with, but not much money to pay taxes, so they designed the domes such that pulling out a keystone would cause the whole roof to fall in. If the tax collector came around, they would pull the keystone and, “Look! No permanent structure to be found and taxed.” Of course, it might take three to six months to reassemble the roof, but if the tax collector showed up only once in several years, and if you had no money to pay taxes, it might be worth it! Looks like taxes were not any more popular then than they are now.

Guide pointing out the keystone in a trullo roof.

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