Trabucchi Gargano

History of traditional Trabucco in Gargano

Many academic, journalists and simple curious have been fascinated by discovering these unexpected, strange and ancient architecture while traveling along Gargano coast.

In 1964, architect Bernard Rudofski staged in New York, in the Museum of Modern Art, a photographic exhibition entitled "Primitive Architecture " in wich appeared a Trabucco of Vieste and a similar structure found on river Wagenya, in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Trabucchi Gargano
Trabucco della Torre - Vieste
Trabucchi Gargano
Bamboo traditional fishing system - Wagenia river - Congo
Still today, everyone who approaches to these structures in order to understand their origins wonder: why in this corner of Italy, one day, the locals have felt the need to build these strange fishing machines?
The answer lies, of course, in the era when the first Trabucco were built, that is more than 200 years ago.

Several historical documents found in the ancient archives of "Angioini" and "Borboni" (the dynasties that reigned in Apulia between 1250 and 1860) agree that in the economy of Gargano fishing boats were practically non-existent, unlike other areas of Italy where they were quite common.

Yet, in the sea of Gargano, the fish was not lacking. Big herd of mullets, sea bass, sea bream and other large fishes migrate, remaining near the coast, in the different periods of the year from the lakes of Lesina and Varano (north of Gargano) to the caves on the south coast to lay their eggs and return.

Why then the inhabitants of Vieste and Peschici never decided to use boats to take advantage of so much abundance? The answer is simple. They were terrified by pirates.

Among these the most terrible had famous names today, Acmed Pasha, Canalì, Custogulì, Barbarossa, Morat, Dragut, Scirocco and Luccialì. They were Turks of the Ottoman Empire, sailed the Adriatic Sea between 1500 and the mid-1800s and, because so much exposed to the sea, Gargano was their favorite prey.

Turkish pirates of Adriatic sea
Trabucchi Gargano Trabucchi Gargano Trabucchi Gargano
Ahmed Pascià Dragut Barbarossa

In 1554 Vieste lost 7000 people in 3 days. The fleet of Dragut invaded the city, killed 4.000 people and took away 3.000 slaves. Almost a century later, the same fate befell Manfredonia with the bloodthirsty Chalil Pasha (1500 deads, 1200 slaves), and again in Mattinata, Peschici, etc. And throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries hundreds of pirates, with large fleets or small ships, attacked Gargano to prey on its towns and to take slaves to sell at home.

Trabucchi Gargano
Paint of Ahmed Pascià flagship

In conclusion, the sea of Gargano was at that time full of fish but, at the same time, it was also extremely dangerous to navigate with fishing boats for the constant presence of Turkish pirates. The locals then meditated a lot about how to take advantage of the abundant resources of all that fish swimming near the coast without the risk of being kidnapped at sea to become slaves.

So, probably, the idea of a fishing machine that allows to catch large amounts of fish while remaining on the mainland (to be able to run quickly in case of sighting of a pirate ships), born in that period.

But whence came the technical skills to build such a complex machine?

From the study of old archives we learned that in Vieste and Peschici were, thanks to the abundance of timber given by the proximity to Umbra forest, two large shipyards in the Angevin kingdom. Here the Angevin empire and then the Bourbon, built warships then used in the many wars on the sea of that historical period. This tells us then, that master carpenters and craftsmen skilled in building ships lived in Gargano in that era.

Trabucchi Gargano
"Taride" (battleship) of Angevin kingdom

And if you look closely at a Trabucco with its masts, its yardarms, its pulleys and its lanyards, does not look like just a strange ship fixed to the land?

Today we do not know who first used the typical architecture of wooden vessels to create ingenious fishing machines. We know, however, that right from birth of the first Trabucco (about 250 years ago), these proved to be a great success for fishing.

The Trabucchi, thanks to their large nets and the speed of the fishing operations, were able to catch tons of fish in little time, and often for many locals was a great good fortune (and an honor) to be part of the crew of a Trabucco. Being a "Trabuccolante" (the one that can build a Trabucco and know how to fish on it) became a real profession, passed from generation to generation, and the success story of Trabucchi lasted until the 1950-60.

Then came motor boats and modern fishing industry. The sea, exploited intensely and savagely, became less and less fishy (especially near the coasts) and Trabucchi could fish increasingly less. Over the past 20 years, many Trabucchi (there were more than 36 between Vieste and Peschici) have been abandoned because the constant maintenance they need can no longer be financially supported. Today there are only 10, most of whom in poor conditions.

That's why the latest generation of Trabuccolanti decided to create a non-profit association in order to try to revive the Trabucchi.

Through fishing demonstrations during which we talk about their history and about the fishing culture of Trabucco of Gargano, we try to raise funds to restore the remaining 10 Trabucchi and, why not, maybe one day rebuild all 36 Trabucchi that existed along the coast of Gargano.

Trabucchi Gargano
Once existing Trabucco on Farol island - Vieste

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