A journey to see – perhaps even sleep in – one of Italy’s oldest and oddest buildings takes you south through the countryside, all the way to the heel of the boot-shaped peninsula. Here, off the sun-drenched dirt roads, squat, whitewashed trulli are clustered among the olive groves. Topped with pointed roofs, many of which are painted with mysterious mythological markings designed to ward off evil, they look like the dwellings of storybook witches.
Trulli are unique to Italy’s Puglia region. Fairy-tale appearance aside, they were designed with a practical purpose: Dating back as early as the 14th century, they served as simple farm sheds or full-time homes for labourers, and were built using a prehistoric dry-stone technique that involved interlocking limestone that didn’t require mortar or cement. Local legend suggests the trulli were designed to be easy to dismantle so that landowners could remove any evidence of them when building-tax collectors paid a visit. (The structures could be reassembled just as quickly, once the coast was clear.)