Leaving Matera by bus, my route takes me eastwards to the Adriatic and into Puglia proper. Grape and olive production have shaped this landscape. The modern road cuts in a straight line through acres & alternating acres of hanging vineyards, ripening under ugly sheets of plastic, and centuries-old olive trees, voluptuous with heavy, spreading branches of foliage & fruit, their trunks prepared for harvest with a circular carpet of sack cloth ready to collect the results of this year’s Shake n Vac.
Polignano a Mare is a pretty fishing village clustered around a ravine, created where a small stream has cut into the land to meet the sea with a small beach of smooth stones & rocks. An attractive historic centre of narrow tangled streets and picturesque houses is in danger of being smothered by vast modern builds of holiday apartments, balconied flats and shoreline promenades that have been constructed around the edges, threatening to engulf it with 21st century holidaymaking.
Alberobello is back inland, back through the dark earthed fields of grapes and olives.
Dotted amongst the endless rows of waving vines and stump-solid trees are clues to the main act of the area – isolated stulli, small, stone huts, built in the fields without mortar to hold a farmer’s tools.
The town itself is unique, made up of stacks of tullis blocks of different shapes and sizes like a card tower spreading along a valley floor and the slopes that rise from it.
Trullis are dry-stoned dwellings designed to house an extended family, their belongings, crops and animals. The walls are whitewashed in an attempt to keep the trullo cool during the heat of the summer. It is said that in the 16th century property taxes were collected. When the locals heard of an upcoming visit by government collectors their homes, because they were constructed without mortar could be easily demolished thus reducing the amount that had to be paid. Once the tax collectors had departed the homes would be rebuilt and life would return to normal.
Wandering the narrow streets is a rather weird feeling particularly in the soft light of dawn before the gaggle of tourists arrive to clog the narrow lanes and ruin the atmosphere. It feels like Noddy & Big Ears are going to appear a door and friendly goblins will wander past waving greetings and welcomes. Sadly no – just crowds of visitors & holidaymakers buying the normal tourist tat from small trulli shops.
The place is fascinating and worth a visit. A goblinesque centre within a normal, everyday kind of town.