Archive for March, 2012

We anticipated much seeing our first Trullo (trulli is the plural form in Italian) house as we headed south from Bari. The trulli are unique to a small area in Puglia, and spilling a bit over into Basilicata. They are a distinctive round building with cone shaped roof, often clumped together in groups to form a series of connected buildings.

The trulli were “impermanent” as the people building them did not have the right granted them for permanent structures. So they were dry laid with no mortar to give the appearance of being easily disassembled. They had small windows and narrow doors to suggest no one would live there.

As we traveled the trulli began to appear in the landscape

The walls of the houses are from 3 – 6 feet thick to be able to support the stone roofs. There is an inner wall made of stone block, an outer wall, and the middle filled with rubble from the stone carving. This made for drafty dwellings,

They became more and more frequent the farther we went

cool in the summer and cold in winter. The roofs are made with round rows, sloped down to let water run off. Rainwater off the roofs was collected in cisterns that were, on average, 10 feet by 10 feet by 10 feet. All the stone excavated from the cistern was used in the tulli construction. Roofs were

The different styles of roof caps

capped with carved  stones. The quality of the mason and the wealth of the owner was evident in the complexity of the caps.

A neat farm house trulli compound

The houses were typically a collection of round buildings interconnected. In Alberobello there is a Territory Museum which houses Casa Pezzolla –  a collection of 15 connected trulli providing a fascinating glimpse into life in these

Museum Trulli house entry

structures. There was a large central structure which served as the living area. Off of it would be the kitchen and other rooms. The front entrance was a trullo

Looking through the entrance trullo to the central one with 2 others beyond

where they would put the donkey at night to occupy the entrance trullo. It added a little warmth and prevented the donkey from being stolen. In the

A loft

upper part of the cone roof there was often a sleeping loft accessible through a trap door.

The top of the cone as seen from inside

The stone in the area is limestone. It is easily worked and a beautiful color when first cut. Over time, rain encourages the growth of moss and lichen on the stone and it becomes gray. Eventually this corrodes the stone leading to the need for periodic repair and replacement.

Next we’ll visit Alberobello, a town with 1500 Trulli!


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One of the great anticipations we had in visiting southern Italy was to see how the food is different. And it is. We had read there was lots of lamb and kid, but we saw no kid. And lamb was much more in evidence in Abruzzo.

We had two really wonderful meals in Martina Franca. The first was at Piazetta Garibaldi, where we were introduced to a couple of the very local cheeses: caciocavallo and ricotta forte. We had the caciocavallo with a wonderful local ham. The ricotta forte was described as pungent, but I found it to be tart. It was served with tomatoes on one of the local pastas – orchiette – or “little ears.”

The second meal came at Gaonas located at Via Arco Valente 17. Here we were treated yet again to the amazing generosity that is the Italians. The food was

Gaonas Ristorante

truly superb: a complimentary scalloped potato kind of warmup dish, a fantastic steak, grilled radicchio, and a chestnut tortellini with pear, canastrato cheese,

Scalloped Potatoes

walnuts, cappacolo ham, porcini mushrooms and tomatoes. Oh my! After dinner they brought us complimentary biscotti. But the coup de grace after the two complimentary dishes was them giving us a bottle of their special olive oil as we

The steak, radicchio and pasta

left. Why? I just don’t know, but invariably we experience these amazing gestures whenever in Italy. It is humbling.

One other interesting food item was the “baconato” we had for breakfast. It came in a variety of flavors: cream, pear, pear and chocolate, chocolate, cream and chocolate. It has a pastry crust and a very generous amount of powdered sugar on top of the filling.


A few general food observations:

  • They use a lot of oregano
  • Their cappuccinos, like those in Abruzzo have more milk than in Umbria and Tuscany and Lazio
  • They seem to use more dried pasta, whereas north it is more often fresh
  • As in Abruzzo, you are served a glass of water with your coffee
  • Bread has salt, is softer and more dense than in Umbria and Tuscany
  • They give you olives nearly all the time (80% of Italy’s olive oil is produced in the area)
  • A dish we saw a lot and enjoyed is mashed fava beans with chicory, though I have to say the chicory of Orvieto has more flavor!

I hadn’t expected to have this many entries on Martina Franca, but I truly enjoyed this city, its very real nature, and the wonderful hospitality. Next, the Trulli and Alberobello.

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Lending beauty to the city are several of their piazzas, which are wonderfully scaled for human use and feel so comfortable. Three piazzas flow one into the other. Piazza Plebiscito houses their Basilica, Piazza Immacolata has a wonderful arcade. It flows into Piazza Garibaldi, which holds a very good restaurant.

The road encircling the city just outside the old city wall is wonderful. There are lots of cars, but is a very human scale, and full of businesses serving local needs. We shopped for groceries on this street. You can still see part of the wall and many of the remaining towers,  which now house businesses or homes. A wonderful city environment on this road, and some great looks out over Valley d’Itria.

The arcade in the exquisitely scaled Piazza Immacolata

A view from Immacolata to the Basilica in Piazza Plebiscito

A section on the encircling road called La Lama with the old city tumbling behind it

Another view of La Lama - a distinctly Spanish feel

Evening on the encircling road with Carmine Church lit up and a vegetable store

Here you can see the remains of one of the city wall towers

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The town was formed in the 900’s by people fleeing the Arab invasion of the port city of Taranto. In 1300 the French Prince of Taranto, Philip Anjoo, granted tax privileges and exemptions to Martina Franca. (This is where Franca came into the city name. Martina comes from the city patron, St. Martin.) These priveleges led the city to become very wealthy. A castle and defensive walls were built around the city. Parts of the wall and many of the 24 towers in the wall still exist. The town became a dukedom in 1506 and a ducal palace was built, now city hall.

Because the city is predominantly white, the introduction of color makes for some beautiful spots. Most of the colors are muted, but at times bright red flowers add a stunning contrast. It must be spectacular in warmer weather when red geraniums are everywhere.

Here are some shots of the contrasts in color.

I loved this door and its surrounding tawniness

Many of the buildings have a corner detail of many different styles. You could make a study of them.

Lots going on here

Many doors have heavy, heavy carving around them

Shades of white

A little color at the end of your sight line

The flower upper left gives a hint of what summer flowers must add to the city

I loved coming across this humbleness in this elegant city.

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I was not expecting to be taken by Martina Franca. I knew it was Baroque architecture and I’ve never been a fan of all the heavy ornamentation. I knew Lecce was an even bigger Baroque city and chose not to visit it for that reason.

Just goes to show you that expectations can sorely mislead you! This was an absolutely beautiful town. Even though we only saw a few hours of sunlight as the skies were primarily gray and low, I walked around in sheer delight at the beauty. It is a very white city – everything from the street surface to the buildings. Most of the buildings were in great repair so the effect was of an exceptionally clean place.

I’ll start off by sharing the detail, which was everywhere and so captivating. The eye is endlessly entertained by detail, and the narrow lanes provide a wonderful frame within which to direct the eye to the detail. I can only imagine what this is like on a sunlight, blue sky-filled day! Enjoy.

The Street Frame

A Hint of Color

Detail Everywhere

Dark against white and gray shadows

Just so Gorgeous

I love this

More Contrast

The end for today

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We made our first foray into southern Italy for 10 days in early March. Because we like to really see a place we stayed in a very small geographic area, preferring to get to know it well, rather than doing a sweep of a larger area. We stayed in just two places: Martina Franca and Matera.

Our Southern Italy Visit

These are two very different places. Martina Franca is a beautiful, beautiful city. Matera is a compellingly human place. While in Martina Franca we visited two cities within about 10 miles – Alberobello and Locorotondo. I will post about each of these places. Matera will command several posts, for it is a truly incredible place. Martina Franca is a place you would want to live, for it is very real. Matera, for us, attracts too many tourists, though there were few there during our off season visit.

We have never had worse weather in Italy! Yet, it didn’t matter because we so enjoyed where we were. In Martina Franca/Alberobello/Locorotondo we had mostly leaden skies, but just a little rain and cool temperatures. In Matera we had some sun, cold weather, and a howling wind. On our last day we saw rain, snow, sleet, hail, and then brilliant sun with very cold winds.

Touching the Countryside Through Train Windows

We are reminded once again what a pleasure it is to travel by bus and train as we did. They are comfortable, afford you wonderful views of the country, and are affordable. The port city of Bari was our interchange point – where we moved from the national trains to regional ones. Trains provide transportation for high school students. Several of our trips had trains full of students getting off at various points along the way.

UK-like Greenery

We traveled through mountains and onto the flat plain around Bari along the coast. There were areas where I thought I was in the UK – beautifully green fields, neatly manicured with the occasional stone structure and stone walls.

Stone lined lanes and fields also remind of the UK

Simply gorgeous. Then there were the miles of olive orchards – 80% of Italy’s olive oil comes from here and neighboring Calabria. The right of ways on the

Miles of silver-green olive orchards

small, regional trains are barely wider than the track themselves. The result is an intimate connection to the surrounding terrain. Wonderful.

Next post: the beautiful city of Martina Franca

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Being Where We Are

Kristi and I are just back from a fabulous trip to southern Italy – our first foray south of Rome. I’ll be posting a bit about the couple of amazing places we saw, but I read something this morning that brought to mind travel and how we are when we travel.

Here’s what I read from Mark Nepo:

The moment we stray from where we are, we create a tension between two places – where we are and where we are thinking of being. It is this tension that blocks us from the sensation of being fully alive.

One of the things I love about travel, particularly to an unfamiliar place, is that we tend to be fully present. The new and different engage our every sense and we pay attention in a way we don’t when we think we know all that is around us. Because all the senses are engaged it does feel very much alive, and intense, and rich.

This was our experience the past 10 days which we spent in Italy. It is what we see in the people who travel with us on our Adventures in Italy trips. However for them and for us on this trip, things change when we get near the end of our travel. Because at that point we are beginning to be both where we are and where we are going next. This is natural. For Kristi and me, it is a bit sad to see as our new friends of a week, begin to look away to what’s next.

And I was aware of it in myself as we began to look to returning home two days ago from Italy. I was still engaged, but there was a part of me plotting the travel that was to come. I think what Nepo’s words perhaps allow us to do is to be more consciously aware that we are splitting our attention, and to grasp the last little bits of being able to be fully present.

Here are a couple of pictures of where we just traveled and which I will cover over the next little while.

Adventures in Italy

Trulli Houses

Matera Houses

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