Alberobello: the Forest, which defeated the feudal power

Since the XI century there are signs of a wooded area called “Sylva aut nemur arbors belli” (Forest or wood of the tree of war).

The town of Martina Franca did assert its rights on the Forest until 1481, when Ferdinand of Aragon (King of Naples), showing kindness to the illustrious Family Acquaviva di Conversano, decided to repay for the damages suffered in the war against the Turks for the defense of Italy, giving the investiture of the feud, including the Forest to Andrea Matteo Acquaviva, Count of Conversano. The Counts of Conversano where very fond of the Forest and they began to lead people to the area: they were mostly farmers and peasants, who cultivated the land. The Conversano family conceded to the people immunities and some advantages, but they did not concede nor rights, or civic privileges, or any form of property.

In order to live in the area, the farmers were allowed to build houses, but with the express prohibition to use any kind of cement lime. This way, as the Conversano family used to say, maybe to scare and oppress the peasants, they could banish people and demolish the house. Actually, this prohibition was due to the fact that, due to a royal law, it was not possible to build houses in that area. By not using lime, in case of direct inspection, it was possible for the Conversano family to break them down quickly, spread all the stones away and rebuild the houses, once the inspection was finished.

The small group of families of the Forest, started feeling the need for a church to honor the cult of religion. So in 1609 the Count of Conversano had the first chapel built and that was the beginning of the Sanctuary .

The person, who mostly supported the development of the Forest was Count Gian Girolamo II Acquaviva. He brought more people and had more houses built and in 1635 he had a villa built for himself. He also wanted and obtained the construction of an oven, a mill and an inn for travellers. He also wanted the construction of a church, dedicated to Saints Cosma and Damiano, with a connecting door to his rooms.

In 1644 the Duke of Martina Franca, who was mostly damaged by the increasing number of farmers moving to the Forest,  appealed to the Reign because Count Gian Girolamo, without the consent of the King had built the village in the Forest. The Count Gian Girolamo was asked by the Royal Chamber to submit within twenty days a document, declaring the right, which allowed him to erect the village. As a result, the Count demolished in one night all the houses built, spreading here and there the construction stones and asking people to temporarily go away. The Royal Inspector saw nothing and the appeal was without effect, while people rebuilt their homes, again not using lime.

This is how they used to live in the Forest, until 1797.

The number of inhabitants had meanwhile grown to 3,500, the church of SS. Medici had been enlarged and the first priests, doctors and a lawyer arrived. The thirst for freedom had penetrated the minds and the desire for civil rights became stronger, being in other areas already a reality. In the end, the Forest got its freedom from King Ferdinand IV of Naples in 1797.

During the spring of 1797, King Ferdinand was in region Apulia and a small delegation of the Forest, to the Count disadvantage, asked and obtained a meeting with the King, who listened to the words of the small delegation and was moved by hearing that 3.500 people were living with nor civil rights, or government, or laws, being slaves of a landowner, so he promised the “Decreto Regio”, which was signed on the 27th of May 1797. This document stated that the Forest was free from feudal slavery and it was elevated to a status of Royal City. Count Giulio Antonio Acquaviva , surprised and angry, tried to make an appeal against the document, protesting the King’s excessive benevolence towards the people of the Forest, but it was useless. So suddenly the baronial oppression  and the abuse of power stopped, as well as the prohibition of building houses with lime. That’s when Casa D’Amore was built.

Great was the joy of the “People of the Forest” upon receiving the news. In the open air, under a large tree beside the church on June 22, 1797 they held their first parliament; Francesco Lippolis was elected the first mayor and the name for the town was chosen. At first, some proposed that the village was called “Ferdinandina”, as a sign of gratitude towards King Ferdinand, who set them free, but the majority chose to confirm the ancient “Sylva aut nemus Arboris belli”, but giving it a more Italian sound. That’s how Alberobello was born, perhaps in memory of  the majestic tree, under which they were gathered together to realize the dream of freedom dreamed for centuries. It was then composed the municipal coat of arms, depicting an old oak tree – a typical plant of the Forest – under which a courageous knight (representing freedom) and a lion (representing the feudal power) struggle for the possession of the tree. On top of the oak two doves flutter, as a symbol of peace and love.

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