The farm houses or “masserie”

One of the most representative examples of the typical construction in the Murgia territory is the “Masserie” or farmhouses. 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 centers belonging to the roman manor houses. During the reign of Frederick II of Swabia were built numerous farm houses represented the referring point for the repopulation of the countryside.

The old feudal system started to lose its authority and it was replaced by the new State that concentrated the power in one center. The farmhouses, in that period, belonged to the State and were controlled by the “magister massarium”: the whole territory was entrusted by three regal farmhouses to which were submitted the minor farmhouses. [Otranto]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 bred.
The following Aragonese and Anjou dynasty changed completely the previous situation introducing again the feudal system. In that period Apulia was considered just land for goods exploitation and from the economical point of view, the sector of sheep farming was enhanced more than agriculture. Because of the displacement of the marine traffic from the Adriatic to the Tyrrhenian Sea, the coastal cities lost their importance favoring the growth of the hinterland centers 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 of 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 farmhouses of the Murgia territory. Clarifications about the farmhouses
The farmhouses on the Alta Murgia are numerous, some of them are lived, many others are abandoned ruins but really fascinating. Their shapes and colors are perfectly combined with the landscape and in many cases, the spontaneous vegetation has now invaded that ambient that first was inhabited by 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 farmhouses were completely made of tuff, according to the economical resources of the owner.