THE AREA 1
Valle d’Itria can be considered the valley of the trulli par excellence, as it is the area with the highest density of scattered trulli: everywhere amidst the lush vineyards, small vegetable gardens and wheat fields pop up the cone-shaped roofs of these typical farmhouses called trulli.
It is actually not a real valley but rather a region of gently rolling hills with a karst soil.
The valley is a series of rapidly changing chromatic effects, a riot of colours ranging from the green of small oak woods, age-old olive trees and neat vineyards, to the whitewash of the trulli and masserie (large farmhouses) up to the “terra rossa”, the red soil of this land.
The place name “Itria” may derive from the Oriental cult of the Madonna “Hodegitria” (which means the Holy Virgin who shows the way) imported by Basilian monks who settled in our area in 977, coming from the territories of the Eastern Roman Empire.
THE AREA 2
The landscape of Valle d’Itria is especially unique and recognizable and is the result of the successful blending of anthropic, natural and physical elements. Human activities (their settlements and agriculture) have fitted into the structure and shape of the places, following the crags of the karst soil and making the best of the opportunities it offered, contributing to build what Cesare Brandi calls “a countryside planned like a city”. The densely woven agricultural fabric is made up of mostly small-sized fields; a tight network of dry-stone walls underscores the delicate texture of this pattern.
Like in bygone days, the countryside still appears well tilled and densely populated; and yet, there was a time when town and country represented two opposite worlds and there were “two cultures”, totally different one from the other, which marked not only the dynamics of work but also the social and relational ones.
Peasants used to live in the countryside, whereas almost all the craftsmen – tailors, cobblers, carpenters, barbers, etc – lived closely side by side in town, sharing the public spaces with high-ranking professionals, merchants and a few great landowners. Such a dichotomy necessarily led to the creation of social subsets that developed adjustment strategies to manage limits and possibilities within their respective social and natural environments [J. Bennet: 1969]. Peasants shared views and values, they held their peers in esteem, and placed at the centre of their philosophy hard work and parsimony. Inside the city walls, instead, greater prestige was assigned to those who had so-called “clean” lobs, like tailors or, even more, those who did no manual job at all.
The agrarian landscape appears densely populated and cultivated, presumably also thanks to the typical lease contract of this area, called emphyteusis. According to this contract, a big landowner leased his property to a group of farmers, each of whom took a portion for a yearly rent and the promise of increasing the value of the property. The contract had no expiration date and could be passed on to one’s heirs, as long as the farmers paid the rent and continued taking care of the land. Generally, the families of farmers would use the product from the vineyards to pay the yearly rent; this, along with the possibility of acquiring a patch of land for the future generations, required the accurate selection of crops.
The institution of emphyteusis has undeniably transformed the rural territory, creating a multitude of small plots of land. Moreover, the tilling of the land required a lot of time and hard work, given the karst nature of the soil and its scarce water resources, (according to estimates, transforming one hectare of barren land into a vineyard took on average at least 2000 days of work – almost 5 and a half years – [Ricchioni, 1958: Tables 5 and 6]), so that it was more convenient for families to live in the countryside, than having to move back and forth from town every day. This situation induced many families to “migrate” from the old town to the countryside, thus leaving a typical mark on the territory which is still today densely populated.