The Humble Beauty of Shepherds’ Stone Huts in Abruzzo

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Every time I go hiking in the La Majella national park, I stop to admire round grey stone huts that are scattered here and there in the area. The Abruzzo landscape wouldn’t be the same without these crumbling, primeval looking structures called “tholos”, or “la caciara” in the local dialect.

For centuries shepherds used tholoi (plural of tholos) as shelters where they would spend the night or wait out bad weather. They were also used for making and storing cheese. Nowadays, groups of boy scouts stay in them overnight during wilderness camps.

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Locals say that the oldest caciara in the area has been standing here for 300 years. The tradition of stone huts came from the south of Italy, Puglia, where similar structures exist. Shepherds moving their herds towards the mountains built tholoi along the transhumance route. They were quick and simple to erect using dry-stone technique yet each of them looked different. Shepherds would often enlarge, rebuild or change existing stone structures in whatever way they wanted, turning them into a collective creation. The area where I live, around the villages of AbbateggioRoccamorice and Lettomanoppello, is especially rich with tholoi, some of them have been restored by locals.

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I love the raw beauty of a tholos  built with the stones found in the area, without any desire to dominate the landscape. They humbly blend in with the rocky surroundings, and, hidden by trees, can be invisible to an untrained eye. Their simplicity echoes the humility of pastoral life in the mountains. It reflects the wisdom that many of us have forgotten these days: the wisdom of living in harmony with nature.

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Photo by Mario di Matteo

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