The “Masseria” (mansion, large farm house) is possibly the most characteristic amongst the agricultural structures of the Murgia area and Apulia. These farms are architectural structures but also an expression of the social history of the local peasants: they have gone through the history of foreign domination that has lasted for centuries in Apulia. One probable origin of these farms is to be found in the evolution of structures originally closely associated with the phenomenon of the transhumance.
In fact, along the trails of the transhumance had been located the the so-called “posts”, which were spacious pasture areas, each endowed with a central building. These structures initially were made of wood. Later they would be extended and consolidated with stone supports. Their ring fences would provide space for the herdsman and their supply, for haystacks and smaller enclosures for sheep and cattle. Transient and precarious in the beginning, these rural structures subsequently evolved and assumed more stable forms, especially those in the vicinity of traditional wintering grounds. As the wooden houses and thatched roofs were rebuilt in stone their facilities multiplied and received real fireplaces which would be used by the shepherds also with processing the milk. Fences became walls. Large limestone slabs (le chianche) were placed on top of them in order to keep out wolves, foxes and other predators. With the transhumance becoming less and less important, many of the original compounds were transformed into multi-functional farms focused on wheat cultivation and oleiculture.
What we can see today is an articulated set of structures and buildings intended for agricultural production. Normally, the farm house is an apparently orderless conglomeration of small rooms, stables, enclosures, tanks and cisterns to collect water for the local processing of the milk. The larger ones had a church so as to carry out Sunday service. Others, as a result of the frequent unrests of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, are fortified with stronger surrounding walls, turrets and watchtowers. There are wonderful examples of farm houses to be found on the Murgia, and we can say that not two of them are alike. Each one corresponds to a part in the sequence of production requirements that over the time have characterized the evolution of construction. “Architecture without architects”, these buildings were put up without the intervention of a designer and the knowledge and techniques of a master mason or foreman. From time to time they would be adjusted to the changing requirements of their owner who commissioned the construction.
*Source: The guidebook to the Alta Murgia National Park “Il cuore di pietra della Pulia”, author: Antonio Sigismondi