One of the most representative examples of the typical construction in the Murgia territory are the “Masserie” or farm houses. They date back to the XI century and till the XIX century they became more numerous. The first houses born during the Normans-Swabian period recall the previous “curtes” which were rural productive centres belonging to the roman manor houses. During the reign of Frederick II of Swabia were built numerous farm houses which represented the referring point for the repopulation of the countryside. The old feudal system started to loose its authority and it was replaced by the new State that concentrated the power in one centre. The farm houses, in that period, belonged to the State and were controlled by the “magister massarium”: the whole territory was entrusted by three regal farm houses to which were submitted the minor farm houses. They were constituted by a small house with the function of tools store, a “domus”, where people lived, a stable and a “curtis” as said a space delimited by a dry-stone wall where the animals were breed.
The following Aragonese and Anjou dynasty changed completely the previous situation introducing again the feudal system. In that period Apulia was considered just a land for goods exploitation and from the economical point of view the sector of the sheep farming was enhanced more than the agriculture. Because of the displacement of the marine traffic from the Adriatic to the Tyrrhenian sea, the coastal cities lost their importance favouring the growing of the hinterland centres which used the Appian routes to export their products. The local farmers started to become commuters, working in the countryside and living in the city, a part from the “massari” who lived in the farm houses. It was also introduced a new juridical administrative organism that deeply modified the economical- territorial asset: the custom which regulated the transhumance. The following pages will describe the different types of farm houses of the Murgia territory.
Clarifications about the farm houses
The farm houses on the Alta Murgia are numerous, some of them are lived, many others are abandoned ruins but really fascinating. Their shapes and colours are perfectly combined with the landscape and in many cases the spontaneous vegetation has now invaded that ambient that first was inhabit by the man. Of course there were no graphic projects for the construction of these buildings: the works were directed by a master builder who followed the direction of the owner and established the correct location of the farm house (from the point of view of the meteorological conditions and the closeness to the material storage points). He decided also how to collocate the different spaces and the materials necessary for the building. Actually the choice of the materials was very important: the lower bearing wall of the more imposing houses was made of “mazzaro duro”, a compact stone that could resist the high temperatures and of low availability. It was used also for the decorations (capitals, doorpost and stairs) and for the oven and the chimney. The rest of the house was built using the “tufo calcareo” (calcareous tuff) which is largely available on this territory. The plaster was realized using derivatives of the tuff. Many examples of farm houses were completely made of tuff, according the economical resources of the owner.