The masserias in Apulia: the history of old southern residences

The masserias in Puglia represent one of the most fascinating and evocative characteristics of the Italian region. Originally built as fortified farming businesses, they became symbols of culture and Apulian tradition. In this article, we will explore the history of Apulian masserias, from their medieval origins to present day, and we will discover how these ancient buildings have become an essential part of Puglia’s cultural heritage.


1. What are masserias?

Masserias are old rural dwellings typical of Apulia. These characteristic buildings were used since the Middle Ages as centers of agricultural production and breeding, and were often surrounded by extensive cultivated areas, such as olive groves and vineyards. In recent years, many masserias were renovated and transformed into charming tourist accommodations, restaurant and event sites, attracting visitors from all over the world thanks to their authenticity and historical atmosphere.


2. Why is it called ‘masseria’?

The term “masseria” comes from the Latin “mansus”, which means “dwelling” or “estate”. Initially, the term indicated a unit of measure for agriculture, but over time it was used to describe the large land properties which developed in Apulia starting from the Middle Ages. These masserias were often made up of a group of buildings, including the manor house, the stables, the warehouses and the farmer houses, and they represented the heart of the rural activities of the region.


3. How did the masseria operate in Apulia?

The masserias in Apulia were organised according to a sharecropping system, in which the farmers worked the land and shared the harvest with the land owners. This system ensured the owners would receive continuous income and would allow farmers to live and work in the masserias without having to pay rent. Each masseria was a sort of small village that was self-sufficient, with a proper oil mill, oven and cellar, where olive oil, wine and cheese products were produced.

The masserias were often fortified for protection from frequent attacks of pirates and bandits characterising the rural life of the time. Many buildings still today have sight towers, perimeter walls and fortified access gates.


4. What differences are there between ‘masseria’ and ‘cascina’ or farms?

While the masseria is typical to the region of Apulia, the cascina is an ancient rural dwelling typical of the regions of Northern Italy, such as Lombardy and Piedmont. Even if both buildings had the same function of centres of farming production, their architectures and organisation arrangements were different. Cascinas, for example, were built with different materials, like bricks and local stone, while the Puglian masserias were built mainly with tuff and lime.

The term farm, on the other hand, is more generic and can be used to describe a rural structure dedicated to agriculture and breeding, regardless of the region or place of origin. Nonetheless, masserias and cascinas have a historical and cultural value that makes them stand out from the more common farms.

5. The modern luxury masserias

In recent years, many masserias were renovated and transformed into luxury accommodations, offering visitors a unique and authentic experience in the heart of Apulia. These accommodations combine the historical charm of masserias with modern services, such as pools, spas and gourmet restaurants. The luxury masserias offer a romantic and relaxing atmosphere, ideal for couples in search of an escape from daily life or for families who wish to immerse themselves in the nature and culture of Apulia.


6. Getting married in a masseria

The masserias have become a very popular location for weddings and special events, thanks to their charming atmosphere and to the breathtaking landscapes all around. Choosing a masseria as a location for one’s wedding means surrounding oneself in an authentic and historical atmosphere, with an opportunity for having the ceremony in the outdoors, among olive groves and dry walls, or inside ancient frescoed rooms.

Many masserias offer complete services for the organisation of the wedding, from the choice of catering to the guest accommodations in the rooms and suites of the agritourism. Moreover, getting married in a masseria makes it possible to enjoy a unique and unforgettable experience, uniting tradition and modernity, in a scenic setting of great charm.


7. The timeless charm of the Masseria Montepaolo

Masseria Montepaolo, a hidden jewel among the ancient stone walls, dates back to the sixteenth century and was once a hunting lodge for the Counts of Acquaviva d’Aragona. In this enchanting place, the lush green and the romantic panorama envelop the old residence situated on hill dominating a karst valley.

A small wood of Mediterranean scrub surrounds the property, among wild olive trees, carob trees, oak trees and wild flowers such as cyclamen and orchids. The uncontaminated nature of this area is protected by the WWF and is part of the nature park of the “Laghi di Conversano” lakes.

Today, the Masseria Montepaolo offers its guests a series of modern conveniences: a private pool, an equipped playground and an air-conditioned winter garden, perfect for weddings, meetings and various types of events. The masseria is also the official site for the celebration of civil weddings and it is included in the prestigious association of the Dimore Storiche di Asso Castelli.

Each corner of this splendid residence hides a piece of history, such as the annexed little rural church, likely hermitage of Saint Anthony of Padua, inside which frescoes dating back to 1642 have been found. Just 200 metres from the masseria, the “Torre del Brigante” tower of the fourteenth century, recognized as a historical, architectural interest by the Superintendance for Artistic and Cultural heritage, shows visitors its breathtaking view on the nature park

Crossing a small wood, it is possible to walk from the main building to an evocative dovecote with its semi-spherical roof of Byzantine influence, originally used to train carrier pigeons.

The Masseria Montepaolo is a hidden treasure looking forward to giving you unforgettable moments through history, nature, and timeless charm.

The little, rural church, probable hermitage of Saint Anthony of Padua, inside which frescoes dating back to 1642 have been found.

Interior of the sixteenth century, rural little church, site of civil weddings celebrated in Masseria Montepaolo.