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The Silk Route - World Travel: Trulli, Puglia, Italy
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Italy: Puglia - Trulli, Caves & Rocky Homes
2004 & 2009

Trulli Grotte di Castellana Matera (Basilicata) Massafra Gravina
trullo

 

Conical-roofed trulli scattered in a fertile landscape, the vast underground town of Matera, early cave churches decorated with frescoes and the spectacular stalagmites and stalactites of Grotte di Castellana.

Trulli

Conversano
The white town of Locorotondo (round place) with the conical roofs of trulli in the foreground. 2009

 

The distinctive cone-roofed stone huts of Puglia can be seen throughout the countryside between Lecce and Polignano a Mare, crossing the Valle d'Itria, many in disrepair. Those in and around towns in the region like Alborobello, Martina Franca, Locorotundo and Ostuni, however, are spruced up for visitors, freshly painted white, some with designs on the roof. They are popular converted to holiday apartments.

The land is very fertile and there are masses of olive groves and vineyards.

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trulli
trulli
Alberobello April 2004
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trulli
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Alberobello April 2004
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Alberobello April 2004
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Trulli on the road between Locorotondo and Martina Franca, April 2004.

 

 

 

 

Alberobello is the quintessential trulli town, very popular with tourists.

 

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Trulli on the route approaching Martina Franca from Lecce, September 2009.
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Trulli on the road approaching Martina Franca from Lecce, September 2009.
wild flowers
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Trulli on the road approaching Martina Franca from Lecce, September 2009.

martina franca
St Martin wielding his sword and sharing his cloak with a beggar.
On the facade of the Basilica di San Martino, Martina Franca.

Martina Franca was founded in the tenth century by refugees fleeing the Arab invasion of Taranto to the west. In the fourteenth century it was granted tax exemptions by Philip of Anjou and the town prospered. From the early 16th century to 1827 it was held in fee by the Carracciolo family and buildings in the baroque style sprang up.

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Piazza Maria Immacolata with the Basilica di San Martino beyond on Piazza Plebiscito.
Martina Franca, September 2009.
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Lunch at La Cantina in Martina Franca, September 2009.
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Driving to Ostuni from Martina Franca, 2009.
vines

 

 

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Ostuni cathedral, 2009.

 

 

Ostuni is a whitewashed town standing on three hills where remnants of Romanesque, Gothic and medieval architecture vie for attention in the Centro Storico. Baroque elements were added during an 18th century facelift.

ostuni
St Oronzo, the patron saint of Ostuni.

 

 

 

Surrounded by olive groves and agricultural land, Ostuni is only 6km from the sea.

 

ostuni
Ostuni

 

Grotte di Castellana

Grotte di Castellana
La Grave
Grotte di Castellana
Grotte di Castellana
Grotta Bianca

40 km south east of Bari these underground caverns are the longest natural network in Italy and full of spectacular stalagmites and stalactites. We visited in 2004 and were part of a small group with four Japanese and an Italian/American family from Boston.

Grotte di Castellana

The first cavern, la Grave (the chasm), reached by descending a set of steps, is enormous and has a big hole in the roof. It's a huge space and very impressive.

Grotte di Castellana

Then through one and a half kilometres of caves and passages festooned with stalagmites and stalactites, complete columns where a stalactite and stalagmite have joined, strange and beautiful formations.

Grotte di Castellana
Grotta Bianca

It is fantastically beautiful and awe-inspiring but the final cave, Grotta Bianca, is quite stunning. As we were such a small group we were allowed to take photographs.

Grotte di Castellana
Grotta Bianca
Grotte di Castellana
Grotta Bianca
Grotte di Castellana
Grotta Bianca

 

Matera

Matera
Matera well-camouflaged in the ravine.

 

 

Matera to the west, actually in the east of Basilicata, is a rock-hewn place, a whole town burrowed into the wall of a ravine. Byzantine monks fled here in the 8th to 9th centuries freeing themselves from an iconoclastic Byzantine emperor; here they were able to worship in their frescoed cave churches.

The cave town is the most extensive troglodyte complex in the Mediterranean and one of the oldest inhabited human settlements in the world - people have lived here since Neolithic times. Starting as simple caves they were enlarged back into the ravine and fronted with what look like normal house fronts. Water is delivered (and sewage removed) by an ingenious system of canals.

 

Matera
Matera
Matera new town.
Matera

As the population grew living conditions became cramped and unhygienic - by the 1950s over half the population lived in the cave dwellings, called sassi, each typically home to six children. Infant mortality was very high at 50% and malaria was rife. Carlo Levi wrote so passionately about the town and its wretched inhabitants that the authorities were forced to act and 15,00 were forcibly relocated in the late 1950s.

In 2004 we visited Matera and had a good long walk around, taking in one of the rock churches and a restored rock house, very small with animal quarters ate the back to retain heat, probably very smelly!

Matera
Inside a restored rock house.
Matera
Fresco of Madonna and Child in one of the rock churches.

 

Matera
One of the rock churches.
Matera
Matera

 

In 1993 the sassi were declared a World Heritage Site and in 2019 the town is a European Capital of Culture.

 

Massafra Gravina

Massafra
Massafra above the ravine of San Marco.

Around 15 km south west of Martina Franca the Puglian landscape is rocky, crossed by steep ravines and sprinkled with early Christian cave churches. Massafra straddles the ravine of San Marco separating the old and new towns.

Massafra
The Norman castle of Massafra commands an extensive view over the plains below the town to the coast.
Massafra
The sides of the ravine are terraced in places and cultivated.
Massafra
Cripta della Candelora
San Simeon, Madonna and Child

It was necessary to book ahead to visit any of the 30 or so cave churches here, which we did in 2009. We went with a guide who took us in a tiny car closer to the churches which are known as Byzantine crypts for their links with Byzantine monks fleeing persecution. Some of the frescoes that once covered the walls are very well-preserved.

Massafra
Cripta Bizantina S. Leonardo
Massafra
Cripta Bizantina S. Leonardo
Massafra
Cripta Bizantina S. Leonardo
Massafra
Cripta della Candelora
S. Nicolinus e S. Stefano.
Massafra
12th century Cripta della Candelora.
Massafra
Cripta della Candelora
Madonna and Jesus as a young boy.
I love the way the figures aren't confined by the frame, as if they are about to step into the room.
Massafra
Cripta della Candelora
The sad expression of the Madonna conveys her knowledge of the unhappy fate of her son.
Massafra

 

The faces of the figures in the frescoes are not expressionless; many are serene but others show worry or sadness.

Massafra
Cripta di Sant'Antonio
Massafra
Cripta di Sant'Antonio
Massafra
Cripta di Sant'Antonio
Massafra
Cripta di Sant'Antonio