Released this month by Rizzoli, "Masseria: The Italian Farmhouses of Puglia" is a striking book of photographs and essays dedicated to the ancient domestic buildings of southern Italy. The masserie originally served as farmhouses and way stations along the Appian Way, the famed military and commercial lifeline from Brindisi to Rome. Stark but captivating constructions of medieval stucco and calcified stone, many of them in recent years have been converted to private residences and boutique hotels. While they differ greatly in style, all share a profound sense of space, light and serenity.
The basic elements of the masseria — well, cistern, house, courtyard, storehouse, stables, chapel and tower — have been countlessly reinvented over the intervening centuries. Some are austere and fortress-like, others more classically Palladian, and others reminiscent of Spanish estancias. Regal 17th-century manor houses lie next to crude stone storehouses that resemble ancient Welsh cairns. The primary tones of Puglia's verdant olive groves and cloudless blue skies only enhance the appeal of these beguiling structures.
Much like the caravanserai of the Silk Road, the masserie are essentially utilitarian. Puglia is famously dry; the fundamental purpose of the masserie was to store and protect water. To quote the excellent explicatory text by architect Diane Lewis, "They are like a necklace of shelters based on the locations of natural springs. Many were located where wells and cisterns could be reached along monumental ancient roads." I warmly recommend this book, and am happy to report that a Puglian jaunt lies in my near future!