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Road Trip Southern Italy Part 3 Alberobello to Matera to Amalfi

The Trulli of Matera

We continued on to Alberobello, the home of a large concentration of Trulli. The trulli is a limestone dwelling of corbelled dry-stone construction, a prehistoric building technique still in use in this region. These structures, date from as early as the mid-14th century.

We stayed in an amazing Conference Center, Hotel, and Spa called la Chiusa di Chietri just outside of Alberobello. On their grounds are some of the Trulli. They have some that are restored that you can stay in. And some that are unrestored, we climbed up a precarious pile of stone to stand on a wall to see into what looked like a courtyard or stable.

There are two areas of Alberobello that are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, here is what that website says about them:

These structures, dating from as early as the mid-14th century, characteristically feature pyramidal, domed, or conical roofs built up of corbelled limestone slabs. Although rural trulli can be found all along the Itria Valley, their highest concentration and best preserved examples of this architectural form are in the town of Alberobello, where there are over 1500 structures in the quarters of Rione Montcomprises six land parcels extending over an area of 28 acres. The land parcels comprise two districts of the city (quarters or Rione Monti with 1,030 trulli; Rione Aia Piccola with 590 trulli) and four specific locations (Casa d’AmorePiazza del MercatoMuseo StoricoTrullo Sovrano).

The extent and homogeneity of those areas, the persistence of traditional building techniques, together with the fact that trulli are still inhabited make this property an exceptional Historic Urban Landscape.

Trulli were constructed from roughly worked limestone excavated on-site in the process of creating sub-floor cisterns and from boulders collected from nearby fields and rock outcrops. Characteristically, the buildings are rectangular forms with conical corbelled roofs. The whitewashed walls of the trulli are built directly onto limestone bedrock and constructed using a dry-stone wall technique (that is, without use of mortar or cement).

A doorway and small windows pierce the walls. An internal fireplace and alcoves are recessed into the thick walls. The roofs are also double-skinned, comprising a domed inner skin of wedge-shaped stone (used in building an arch or vault) capped by a closing stone; and a watertight outer cone built up of corbelled limestone slabs, known as chianche or chiancarelle. The roofs of buildings often bear mythological or religious markings in white ash and terminate in a decorative pinnacle whose purpose is to ward off evil influences or bad luck. Water is collected via projecting eaves at the base of the roof which divert water through a channelled slab into a cistern beneath the house. Flights of narrow stone steps give access to the roofs.

The tradition of building in this style has been in the region for over one thousand years. By the mid-16th century the Monti district was occupied by some forty trulli, but it was in 1620 that the settlement began to expand, when the Count of the period, Gian Girolamo Guercio, ordered the construction of a bakery, mill, and inn. By the end of the 18th century the community numbered over 3500 people. In 1797, feudal rule came to an end, the name of Alberobello was adopted, and Ferdinand IV, Bourbon King of Naples, awarded to Alberobello the status of royal town. After this time the construction of new trulli declined.

Between 1909 and 1936 parts of Alberobello were protected through designation as heritage monuments. One thing I found interesting is why this type of structure was popular originally.

They are quite simple buildings to erect because the building process involves no cement – just placing rocks on top of each other. That means they are also quite easy to dismantle.

Centuries ago, when the tax collector was coming from Naples to gather his dues from the locals, they all just took down their houses and so didn’t need to pay anything. Today when restoring trulli they do add cement for safely.

In addition to wonderful olive oil, ice cream, jewelry, wine and liquor, leather goods, and pasta, being produced in the area, there are a lot of weavers too. We came home with some pieces from Donna Lia.

There are symbols on the roofs of many of the trullo. Many are to guard against evil. The different groups are primitive, pagan, magic, Christian, and ornamental. The primitive signs go back to pre-Roman times.

The provided meals on this tour have been great. Of course I love southern Italian food, it’s simple. Our guide Alfredo said they try to use no more than 4 ingredients. It seems about every other night the evening meal is part of the tour, every breakfast is included. The tour company is GoAhead Tours. This is the third time I’ve traveled with them and all three tours have been great.

The night we arrived in Alberobello we ate a traditional farm meal at Masseria Papaperta.

Masseria (Masseria means farm) Papaperta is a historic Apulian masseria of the 1700s surrounded by the green of the Itria valley near Alberobello. Even today, on the entrance to the main hall, is visible the stone that shows the engraving with the date and the name of its ancient founder: 1724 Nicolò Perta.

Another town with unusual architecture in this region is Matera. Matera is famous for its sassi – stone houses carved of of caves and cliffs.

At first sight, the sassi looks like a jumble of faded stone huts – where narrow alleys and stairways lead every which way and streets are sometimes rooftops – but behind the house-like facades are simple caves, inhabited since Paleolithic times – the Stone Age. They say this could be one of the oldest continuously occupied settlements in the world. Some of the dwellings are 12 stories high, the floor of one is the stone roof of another, cave upon cave.

People lived in the sassi up until the 1950s when it came to the attention of the outside world what bad conditions people were living under. Large families lived with their livestock in the caves without running water, electricity or sewage. The government then relocated the inhabitants of the caves into new housing in the new town on top of the cliff.

Our local guide Brunella said her Grandmother – now 95 – lived in the sassi. She asked her granddaughter “What you do for a living I don’t understand, why would anyone want to see that, they should go see our mall.” Living conditions were pretty miserable for her and the others living there. Brunella also said that as a child – when the sassi was just abandoned and no one lived there, they would skip school and play there knowing no one would ever find them. Photos of interior below – doesn’t look too bad now but add animals, no running water or toilets.

They would often share a common oven somewhere in the Sassi to bake their bread. Each person “branded” theirs with an iron so they knew which loaves were theirs.

The area was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1993. People are moving back into the caves, having been restored and transformed into comfortable houses, restaurants and hotels.

The best way to experience Matera is to wander through the labyrinthine alleys and streets of the two sassi districts, Sasso Barisanoand Sasso Caveoso.

There are chiese rupestri (cave churches) which were excavated by Basilian monks fleeing persecution during the Byzantine Empire. Inside the chiese rupestri are faded frescoes painted between the 8th and 13th centuries. Chiesa Madonna delle Virtu and San Nicola dei Greci in Sasso Barisano and Chiesa di Santa Maria d’Idris (which is connected by a narrow corridor to the recessed church of San Giovanni in Monterrone) in Sasso Caveoso are decorated in frescoes. Many are almost inaccessible today.

Matera was built above a deep ravine called Gravina of Matera that divides the territory into two areas. Matera was built such that it is hidden, but made it difficult to provide a water supply to its inhabitants. Early dwellers invested tremendous energy in building cisterns and systems of water channels.

The largest cistern has been found under Piazza Vittorio Veneto. With its solid pillars carved from the rock and a vault height of more than 50 feet and it is like a water cathedral, which is navigable by boat. Like other cisterns in the town, it collected rainwater that was filtered and flowed in a controlled way to the Sassi.

There were also a large number of little superficial canals that fed pools and hanging gardens. Later, when the population increased, many of these cisterns were turned into houses and other kinds of water-harvesting systems were developed.

From the Sassi we traveled over the Apennines to the Almafi Coast. I didn’t realize just how high this mountain range is. The highest point is 6500 feet which doesn’t compare to Colorados 14,000 footers but from here we are starting at sea level, not 5000 feet like Colorado. It was a beautiful drive, the fields of poppies were beautiful. I also loved the way they train their Pittosporum into trees. Might be a different genus than the ones I have in my yard but I might try to trim mine differently after seeing these.

We spent 2 nights in Salerno, not my favorite city but it’s on the water and we had a beautiful meal right across the street from our hotel. The owner brought the fish out on a platter for us to choose from. We even had our own private fireworks!

We drove to Amalfi and toured the town. The crypt of the Cathedral there is stunning. Surprisingly Amalfi was not my favorite, pretty touristy, Ravello was. We didn’t see all the towns along the coast but of the ones we saw Ravello captured my image of that coastline.


The images below are of Ravello

Ravello, like other towns along the Amalfi Coast were settled by Romans who built the amazing road along the cliffs, still in use today.

There are two fabulous gardens in the town. Villa Cimbrone and Villa Rufolo. I’m sorry we never made it to Villa Cimbrone, we were beat by that time. A good reason to go back.


We stayed in Salnero for 2 nights to tour the Almafi coast, if I were to do it again I would stay in Sorrento or our guide suggested Praiano (near Positano but not as expensive). That being said we had a fabulous dinner with an amazing view and even our own (or so it seemed) fireworks. We were presented with the fish we might wish to eat. We had that along with broiled vegetables and yellow potatoes. Bobbi and I had a knack for picking memorable places to eat and the food was always fresh and yummy.

We had two stops on our way back to Salerno. One was in Minori at an amazing place if you like pastries.

They are most famous for their Delizia al Limone. Again not on WW but worth the points.

Eat dessert first – which we did – then our last meal of the trip was eaten at Ristorante San Pietro, Cetera. It was great. We started with a half dozen hors-d’œuvre’s each one tastier than the last. The biggest surprise was the pasta with a simple sauce which included anchovies, I’m generally not a fan but you couldn’t really taste the fish, it just added a slight tang. Delizioso!

The trip was perfect. What were my favorite places and experiences? I’m used to traveling alone so was thrilled to have a totally compatible companion in Bobbi to travel with. Since it was our first trip together we didn’t know how it would be but it couldn’t have been better. And I’ll have to say it WAS more fun than alone. As far as the places we saw I guess I would say Lecce (love the over the top architectural decoration and our restaurant experience), Osterini (because of the beautiful restaurant we ate in and the art gallery with unusual pottery), and the old town Bari and Ravello. But every single place we went was wonderful. Ciao!

10 thoughts on “Road Trip Southern Italy Part 3 Alberobello to Matera to Amalfi

  1. Thanks so much for this beautifully descriptive post! I almost felt like I was there with you. Love your photos, too!

    1. Thanks Sandy, I really enjoyed your France photos too! Anxious to go back there. It looks like you & friends went on your own, not on a tour. How long were you there?

  2. Love the photos. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thank you Lea!

  3. Spectacular photos! Thanks so much for sharing… wish I had your talent for capturing images. My pictures pale in comparison, but we had a good time and enjoyed meeting you. Diane

    1. Thank you Diane! I enjoyed meeting you too. Looking forward to the next trip!

  4. wow what a GREAT job you have done on this blog. I have truly enjoyed your photos and explanations. We loved Puglia and am so happy your visit Ito southern Italy
    has been so succcessful.

    1. Hi Joyce It was so much better than expected. The other parts of Italy get so much more press, I liked them too but have to say the further south I got the more I liked it, and this trip confirmed that. Not so many people, unusual places people lived, the food. I went with go ahead tours and they did a great job. Thank you for reading and commenting!

  5. Love your photos and blog! This is on my list of places to visit, I just moved it up to the top.

    1. Karen it was wonderful, I went with go ahead tours and they did a great job. So many unusual towns we visited and lots fewer people than further north. The pace was good, they seem to know how how much free time to give you in each place, enough time to eat, shop, and gawk at things. Thanks for reading! You’ve been to some wonderful places yourself. I think next for me is Portugal and Spain.

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