The train trip from Bari to Alberobello takes about 1hour and 40 minutes. The trick is, finding the right ticket office.
Alberobello seemed like a good destination to slosh down some wine and see the trulli, those pointy roofed houses found only in this part of the world and one of the main tourist attractions in the Bari area. Alberobello is also a UNESCO world heritage site.
Good news. Trains leave every hour.
Tried the main train station. Uhhhhh…no. A kind ticket clerk sent us across the way to another ticket office.
High hopes, but this was also a losing lottery ticket. Another kind ticket clerk sent us next door to a café. Really? Yep, you go through the café, down a hallway and a small office on the right sells the tickets. The ticket seller also told us platform 11 was the one we needed. We purchased round trips, just in case there were two or three ticket offices at the other end.
More trouble. We walked the entire length of the hallway, with stairs clearly marked for each platform. No platform 11. Was this to be like Platform 9 ¾ from King’s Cross Station to Hogwarts?
Wait a sec, there’s a stairway at the end of the hallway that leads outside. We took the stairs to the right. Nothing, but a sidewalk and a busy city street.
Let’s try the stairway on the left. Presto. Kinda. With blind luck we walked up the stairs to the outside and found another open doorway that lead to platform 11. Nothing marked, but everyone else seemed to be headed that way. Not only safety in numbers, but truth in numbers.
But, was this the correct train? Perplexity so close to success is no more comforting than almost passing a final exam. Several Italian passengers seemed as perplexed as we. For the record, one of our company was fluent in Italian. We milled about. We stepped toward the train, then backed away. Finally, a pretty young woman assured us this was the correct train to Alberobello. Audible sighs of relief. A herd of equally perplexed folk boarded with us.
Ah, the sweet bliss of discovery, the comfort of the lost and confused being rescued.
The train was clean and comfortable. We chatted and waited for the conductor to grab our tickets. Never happened. Like the London subway system, tickets are checked at automatic turnstiles at the end of the journey.
It was nearing lunchtime when we hit the pavement at Alberobello, but despite our eagerness to find the trulli, we stopped for wine. But, some broke ranks and went for gelato.
As we sat and sipped or licked, we noticed a tall tourist pulling out one of the stones from the roof of a trullo. “What the……..???? Has he lost his mind?” Apparently he had. He replaced the stone and pulled it out again…and again. Then his equally mentally decrepit wife showed up and he couldn’t wait to show off his new talent. Just as all four of us were about to race over and make a citizens arrest, he and the wife wandered off, possibly to find another roof.
Trullo or trulli requires a bit of explanation. Trullo is singular. Trulli is the plural. But, due to Tourist ignorance and the abundance of these dwellings, the whole place is often referred to as Trulli.
As we noticed, gazing out the windows of the train, this is rocky county. Lots of low stonewalls, with white rocks scattered like popcorn in the vast open fields.
As you might imagine, the trulli are also constructed of stone, mostly round, but the occasional four sided abodes, but all with conical roofs.
How in the world did this get started? Well, back in the bad old days of the 15thCentury, when King of Naples dictated that any new settlement was to be taxed, the peasants of this area…who may have been poor, but not stupid…..began building houses that could be quickly disassembled. Stacked stonewalls, without mortar, and roofs that were also stacked. The interior layer of the roof was built using voussoir technique and an outer shell of stacked sandstone, pointed slightly downward, much like stone shingles. As the tourist so kindly demonstrated, the roof tiles are not mortared either.
Now, I suppose you are dying to know what voussoir means. Wedge shaped stones that when properly fitted together to form a dome, press on each other and do not collapse. The Romans used the same technique on bridges and aqueducts. (see illustration).
At the top of the a trullo roof ,the builder almost always put a carved bit of sandstone, as a capstone and also as a bit of advertising. The trullis do not normally have windows, but there is a vent on the roof.
You’ll notice the white walls are now smooth. In follow-on centuries, when life was a bit more certain, trulli began to have the walls, inside and out, plastered and painted. All the trulli we saw in Alberobello were painted white and also had Christian symbols painted on the roofs.
However in the countryside those trulli, that served for livestock or grain storage, were still bare stone.
Some people still live in the Alberobello trulli. You can tell by the newly installed windows and doors. Other trulli have been converted to shops that sell trinkets, ceramics, baskets, and hand woven table linens, as well as paintings and statues.
One thing we all noticed, the people of Alberobello are cordial and friendly. I’m not just talking about the merchants, but everyone.