10. Architectural diversity in Puglia
Puglia, in the southern region of Italy, more precisely in the “high heel of the boot”, boasts an original and unique mix of different architectures. In several cities and towns, you will come across completely different architectural styles – and the funny thing is that they can be found in the same region. Alberobello, the “gnome neighbourhood”, for example, is a unique case in the world. Known as “the city of trulli”, Alberobello seems to come straight out of a fairy tale. The word “trulli” is the plural of “trullo” and means “dome”. These are ancient constructions made entirely out of stone, with conical roofs, that originate from prehistoric construction techniques. The roofs are made of dry-grouted stones, without mortar, stacked in circles. The result is a village of small white houses, all built of stone, quite picturesque and definitely unique, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Matera, west of Alberobello, is one of the oldest cities in the world and is known as “the city of caves” or “the underground city”, as its typical ancient houses are literally carved in limestone rocks. While Alberobello has its trulli, Matera is known for its sassi, which is the plural of “sasso” and means “stone” or “rock”. This picturesque destination was built on the edge of a rocky gorge, carved into the limestone. In the past, the natural caves or grottos found here, one above the other, served as shelters and even homes. Over time, the buildings became more elaborate, giving rise to what we see today – the sassi are also considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site and have already served as a backdrop on the big screen. In the past, people lived in these caves in extreme poverty, without the minimum conditions for maintaining a healthy life. Today, after extensive restoration, these houses are the essence of the city, which is also characterized by its winding streets and stairs. Further south, almost at the tip of the “heel of the boot”, you will find Lecce, a Baroque gem. In this city, known as the “Florence of the South”, a walk through the wonderful historic centre is enough to reveal beautiful religious buildings and Baroque palaces that will make any architecture lover go into raptures. The style even has its own name – Leccese Baroque – and was developed in Puglia in the 17th and 18th centuries. The best time of day to admire these Baroque masterpieces is undoubtedly at sunset, when the walls and facades take on an absolutely magical golden glow. The buildings made of golden sandstone were crafted from local stone extracted from the countryside surrounding the city. Walking through the streets of Lecce, you will see beautiful church facades, balconies, windows, squares and doors. Further north of Lecce, on the coast, you will find Polignano a Mare, one of the most important ancient destinations in the Puglia region, built on the edge of a steep ravine. In the old town, the architecture consists mainly of small, whitewashed houses with small, very picturesque doors. Famous for its pristine beaches, Polignano a Mare is located on a stretch of coast dotted with several marine caves and grottos, where the sea takes on the colours of turquoise and emerald green. It is no coincidence that this town is known as the “Pearl of the Adriatic”. These grottoes, where you can see the waves breaking and where there are even restaurants, certainly make this city unique.