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Arbëreshë people

Arbëreshë people

The Arbëreshë (pronounced [aɾbəˈɾɛʃ]; Albanian: Arbëreshët e Italisë or Shqiptarët e Italisë), also known as Albanians of Italy or Italo-Albanians, are an Albanian ethnolinguistic (ethnic and linguistic) group in Southern Italy, mostly concentrated in scattered villages in the regions of Apulia, Basilicata, Calabria, Campania, Molise and Sicily.[5] They are the descendants of mostly Tosk Albanian refugees, who fled from Albania between the fourteenth and eighteenth centuries in consequence of the Ottoman invasion of the Balkans.

During the Middle Ages, the Arbëreshë settled in Southern Italy in several waves of migration, following the establishment of the Kingdom of Albania, the death of the Albanian national hero Gjergj Kastrioti Skënderbeu and the gradual conquest of Albania and the Byzantine Empire by the Ottomans.

Their culture is determined by the main features that are found in language, religion, traditions, customs, art and gastronomy, still zealously preserved, with the awareness of belonging to a specific ethnic group. Over the centuries, the Arbëreshë have managed to maintain and develop their identities, thanks to their cultural value exercised mainly by the two religious communities of the Byzantine Rite based in Calabria, the Corsini College in 1732 then Corsini Adriano College of San Benedetto Ullano in 1794 and the Arbëreshë Seminary of Palermo in 1735, which was then transferred to Piana degli Albanesi in 1945.[6]

Nowadays, most of the fifty Arbëreshë communities are adherents to the Italo-Albanian Church, an Eastern Catholic Church. They belong to two eparchies, the Lungro, for the Arbëreshë of Continental Italy, the Piana degli Albanesi, for the Arbëreshë of Sicily, and the Monastery of Grottaferrata, whose Basilian monks come largely from the Albanian settlements of Italy. The church is the most important organization for the maintenance of the characteristic religious, ethnic, linguistic and traditional identity of the Arbëreshë community.

The Arbëreshë speak Arbëresh, a variant of Albanian that descends from Tosk Albanian. This Albanian dialect is of particular interest to students of the modern Albanian language as it retains speech sounds, morphosyntactic and vocabulary elements of the language spoken in pre-Ottoman Albania. In Italy, Arbëreshë is protected by law number 482/99, concerning the protection of the historic linguistic minorities.[7]

The Arbëreshë are scattered throughout southern Italy and Sicily and in small numbers also in other parts of Italy. They are in great numbers in North and South America, especially in the US, Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Mexico, Venezuela, Uruguay and Canada. It is estimated that there are about 100,000 Italo-Albanians (400,000 if including those outside of Italy); they constitute one of the oldest and largest minorities in Italy. Being Italian and Arbëreshë are both central to Italo-Albanians' identity.[8] When speaking about their "nation", Arbëresh use the term Arbëria, a loose geographical term for the scattered villages in southern Italy which use Arbëresh language. They are proud of their Albanian ethnicity, identity and culture,[9] but also identify themselves as Italian nationals, since they have lived in Italy for hundreds of years.[8]

In the light of historical events, the secular continuity of the Albanian presence in Italy is exceptional. In 2017, with the Republic of Albania and Kosovo, an official application for inclusion of the Arbëresh people has been submitted to the UNESCO as a living human and social immaterial patrimony of humanity.[10][11]

Albanians of Italy  · Italo-Albanesi
Regions with significant populations
Abruzzo, Apulia, Basilicata, Calabria, Campania, Molise, Sicily
Albanian, Italian
Byzantine Catholicism
(minority Roman Catholicism)
Related ethnic groups
Albanian diaspora



In the Middle Ages, the native Albanians in the area of Albania called their country Arbëri or Arbëni and referred to themselves as Arbëreshë or Arbëneshë.[12][13] In the sixteenth century, the toponym Shqipëria and the demonym Shqiptarë gradually replaced Arbëria and Arbëresh respectively. Nowadays, only the Albanians in Italy, whose ancestors immigrated from the Middle Ages, are called Arbëresh and the language Arbërisht. The term Arbëreshë is also used for calling themselves by the Arvanites in Greece.

Early migrations

Skanderbeg led 2,500 Albanian soldiers into the Kingdom of Naples in 1458

Skanderbeg led 2,500 Albanian soldiers into the Kingdom of Naples in 1458[14]

The Battle of Torvioll in 1444 was the first confrontation between Skanderbeg's Albanians and the Ottoman Turks

The Battle of Torvioll in 1444 was the first confrontation between Skanderbeg's Albanians and the Ottoman Turks

The Arbëreshë, between the 11th and 14th centuries, moved in small groups towards central and southern Albania and the north and south of Greece (Thessaly, Corinth, Peloponnesus, Attica) where they founded colonies. Their military skill made them favorite mercenaries of the Franks, Catalans, Italians and Byzantines.

The invasion of the Balkans by the Ottoman Turks in the 15th century forced many Arbëreshë to emigrate from Albania and Epirus to the south of Italy. There were several waves of migrations. Indeed, in 1448, the King of Naples Alfonso V of Aragon appealed to Skanderbeg in suppressing a revolt at Naples. Skanderbeg sent a force under the leadership of Demetrio Reres, and his two sons. Following a request of Albanian soldiers, King Alfonso granted land to them and they were settled in twelve villages in the mountainous area called Catanzaro in 1448. A year later the sons of Demetrio, George and Basil along with other Albanians were settled in four villages in the region of Sicily.[15]

In 1459, the son of Alfonso, king Ferdinand I of Naples again requested the help of Skanderbeg. This time, the legendary leader himself came to Italy with his troops ruled by one of his general Luca Baffa, to end a French-supported insurrection. Skanderbeg was appointed as the leader of the combined Neapolitan-Albanian army and, after victories in two decisive battles, the Albanian soldiers effectively defended Naples. This time they were rewarded with land east of Taranto in Apulia, populating 15 other villages.[16]

After the death of Skanderbeg in 1468, the organized Albanian resistance against the Ottomans came to an end. Like much of the Balkans, Albania became subject to the invading Turks. Many of its people under the rule of Luca Baffa and Marco Becci fled to the neighboring countries and settled in a few villages in Calabria. From the time of Skanderbeg's death until 1480 there were constant migrations of Albanians to the Italian coast. Throughout the 16th century, these migrations continued and other Albanian villages were formed on Italian soil.[17] The new immigrants often took up work as mercenaries hired by the Italian armies.

Another wave of emigration, between 1500 and 1534, relates to Arbëreshë from central Greece. Employed as mercenaries by Venice, they had to evacuate the colonies of the Peloponnese with the assistance of the troops of Charles V, as the Turks had invaded that region. Charles V established these troops in Italy of the South to reinforce defense against the threat of Turkish invasion. Established in insular villages (which enabled them to maintain their culture until the 20th century), Arbëreshë were, traditionally, soldiers for the Kingdom of Naples and the Republic of Venice, from the Wars of Religion to the Napoleonic invasion.

Later migrations

The wave of migration from southern Italy to the Americas in 1900–1910 and 1920–1940 depopulated approximately half of the Arbëreshë villages, and subjected the population to the risk of cultural disappearance, despite the beginning of a cultural and artistic revival in the 19th century.

Since the end of communism in Albania in 1990, there has been a wave of immigration into Arbëreshë villages by Albanians.


The regions of Italy where there is an Albanian minority

The regions of Italy where there is an Albanian minority

Barile (Barilli) in Basilicata

Barile (Barilli) in Basilicata

Civita (Çifti) in Calabria

Civita (Çifti) in Calabria

Greci (Katundi) in Campania

Greci (Katundi) in Campania

Ururi (Ruri) in Molise

Ururi (Ruri) in Molise

Casalvecchio (or Kazallveqi), in Apulia

Casalvecchio (or Kazallveqi), in Apulia

Piana degli Albanesi (Hora e Arbëreshëvet) in Sicilia

Piana degli Albanesi (Hora e Arbëreshëvet) in Sicilia

The Arbëresh villages contains two or three names, an Italian one as well as one or two native Arbëresh names by which villagers know the place. The Arbëreshë communities are divided into numerous ethnic islands corresponding to different areas of southern Italy. However, some places have already lost their original characteristics and the language, and others have totally disappeared. Today, Italy has 50 communities of Arbëreshë origin and culture, 41 municipalities and 9 villages, spread across seven regions of southern Italy, forming a population of about 100,000.[1][2] Some cultural islands survive in the metropolitan areas of Milan, Chieri, Turin, Rome, Naples, Bari, Cosenza, Crotone and Palermo. In the rest of the world, following the migrations of the twentieth century to countries such as Germany, Canada, Chile, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Venezuela, Uruguay and the United States, there are strong communities that keep Arbëreshë traditions alive.

The full list of the Arbëresh Communities in Italy is:[18]

  • Abruzzo Province of Pescara Villa Badessa (frazione of Rosciano): Badhesa

  • Molise Province of Campobasso Campomarino: Këmarini Montecilfone: Munxhufuni Portocannone: Portkanuni Ururi: Rùri

  • Campania Province of Avellino Greci: Katundi

  • Apulia Province of Foggia Casalvecchio di Puglia: Kazallveqi Chieuti: Qefti Provincia di Taranto San Marzano di San Giuseppe: Shën Marcani

  • Basilicata Province of Potenza Barile: Barilli Ginestra: Zhura Maschito: Mashqiti Rionero in Vulture:[19] A-Rionero San Costantino Albanese: Shën Kostandini Arbëresh San Paolo Albanese: Shën Pali Arbëresh

  • Calabria Province of Catanzaro Andali: Andalli Caraffa di Catanzaro: Garafa Marcedusa: Marçëdhuza Vena di Maida (frazione of Maida): Vina Province of Cosenza Acquaformosa: Firmoza Cantinella (frazione of Corigliano-Rossano): Kantinela Cerzeto (in the commune of Cerzeto): Qana Castroregio: Kastërnexhi Cavallerizzo (frazione of Cerzeto): Kajverici Civita: Çifti Eianina (frazione of Frascineto): Purçìll Falconara Albanese: Fullkunara Farneta (frazione of Castroregio): Farneta Firmo: Ferma Frascineto: Frasnita Lungro: Ungra Macchia Albanese (frazione of San Demetrio Corone): Maqi Malito Marri (frazione of San Benedetto Ulolano): Allimarri Mongrassano: Mungrasana Plataci: Pllatëni San Basile: Shën Vasili San Benedetto Ullano: Shën Benedhiti Santa Caterina Albanese: Picilia San Cosmo Albanese Strihàri San Demetrio Corone: Shën Mitri San Giorgio Albanese: Mbuzati San Giacomo di Cerzeto (frazione of Cerzeto): Shën Japku San Martino di Finita: Shën Mërtiri Santa Sofia d'Epiro: Shën Sofia Spezzano Albanese: Spixana Vaccarizzo Albanese: Vakarici Province of Crotone Carfizzi: Karfici Pallagorio: Puhëriu San Nicola dell'Alto Shën Kolli

  • Sicilia Province of Palermo Contessa Entellina: Kundisa Piana degli Albanesi: Hora e Arbëreshëvet Santa Cristina Gela: Sëndahstina


Arbërisht language classification

Arbërisht language classification

Bilingual signs in Piana degli Albanesi, Sicily

Bilingual signs in Piana degli Albanesi, Sicily

Road signs bilingual, in Italian and Albanian in Piana degli Albanesi

Road signs bilingual, in Italian and Albanian in Piana degli Albanesi

Arbëresh derives from the Tosk dialect spoken in southern Albania, and is spoken in Southern Italy in the regions of Calabria, Molise, Apulia, Basilicata, Campania, Abruzzi, and Sicily. All dialects of Arbëresh are closely related to each other but are not entirely mutually intelligible.

The Arbëresh language retains many archaisms of medieval Albanian from pre-Ottoman Albania in the 15th century. It also retains some Greek language elements, including vocabulary and pronunciation. It has also preserved some conservative features that were lost in mainstream Albanian Tosk. For example, it has preserved certain syllable-initial consonant clusters which have been simplified in Standard Albanian (cf. Arbërisht gluhë /ˈɡluxə/ ('language/tongue'), vs. Standard Albanian gjuhë /ˈɟuhə/). It sounds more archaic than Standard Albanian, but is close enough that it is written using the same Albanian alphabet as Standard Albanian. A Shqiptar (Albanian) listening to or reading Arbërisht is similar to a modern English speaker listening to or reading Shakespearean English. The Arbëresh language is of particular interest to students of the modern Albanian language as it represents the sounds, grammar, and vocabulary of pre-Ottoman Albania.

Arbërisht was commonly called Albanese ("Albanian" in Italian) in Italy until the 1990s. Until recently, Arbërisht speakers had only very imprecise notions about how related or unrelated their language was to Albanian. Until the 1980s Arbërisht was exclusively a spoken language, except for its written form used in the Italo-Albanian Church, and Arbëreshë people had no practical affiliation with the Standard Albanian language used in Albania, as they did not use this form in writing or in media. When a large number of immigrants from Albania began to enter Italy in the 1990s and came into contact with local Arbëreshë communities, the differences and similarities were for the first time made known. There are mixed feelings towards the "new Albanians", and social conflict existed between the groups.[20]

Since the 1980s, some efforts have been organized to preserve the cultural and linguistic heritage of the language. Arbërisht has been under a slow decline in recent decades, but is currently experiencing a revival in many villages in Italy. Figures such as Giuseppe Schirò Di Maggio have done much work on school books and other language learning tools in the language, producing two books Udha e Mbarë and Udhëtimi, both used in schools in the village of Piana degli Albanesi.

There is no official political, administrative or cultural structure which represents the Arbëresh community. Arbërësh is not one of the group of minority languages that enjoy the special protection of the State under Article 6 of the Italian Constitution. At the regional level, however, Arbërisht is accorded some degree of official recognition in the autonomy statutes of Calabria, Basilicata and Molise.

  • In the case of Calabria, the region is to provide for recognition of the historical culture and artistic heritage of the populations of Arbëresh origin and to promote the teaching of the two languages in the places where they are spoken.

  • Article 5 of the autonomy statute of Basilicata lays down that the regional authorities "shall promote renewed appreciation of the originality of the linguistic and cultural heritage of the local communities".

  • Finally, the autonomy statute of the Molise region stipulates that the region "shall be the guardian of the linguistic and historical heritage and of the popular traditions of the ethnic communities existing in its territory and, by agreement with the interested municipalities, shall promote renewed appreciation of them".

In certain communes the local authorities support cultural and linguistic activities promoted by the Arbëresh communities and have agreed to the erection of bilingual road signs.[21] There are associations that try to protect the culture, particularly in the Province of Cosenza. The Arbëresh language is used in some private radios and publications. The fundamental laws of the areas of Molise, Basilicata and Calabria make reference to the Arbëresh language and culture. Nevertheless, the increase in training in the use of the written language has given some hope for the continuity of this culture.


Early Arbëreshë literature

The first work of Italo-Albanian literature was that of Sicilian archpriest Luca Matranga (1567–1619). The book was titled E mbsuama e krështerë (Christian Doctrine) and it was a simple religious translation in Arbëresh language, aiming at bringing Christianity closer to his people is Southern Italy. While during the 17th century there were no Arbëresh writers, in the 18th century there was Giulio Variboba (1724–1788, Jul Variboba), regarded by many Albanians as the first genuine poet in all of Albanian literature.[22] Born in San Giorgio Albanese (Mbuzati) and educated in Corsini Seminary in San Benedetto Ullano, after many polemics with local priest he went to exile in Rome in 1761 and there he published in 1762 his long lyric poem Ghiella e Shën Mëriis Virghiër (The life of Virgin Mary). The poem has been written entirely in dialect of San Giorgio and has about 4717 lines. Variboba is considered unique in Albanian literature for his poetic sensitivities and the variety of rhythmic expression. Another known artistic figure of that time was Nicola Chetta (1740–1803) known in Albanian as Nikollë Keta. As a poet he wrote verses both in Albanian and Greek language and he has also composed the first Albanian sonnet in 1777. Being a poet, lexicographer, linguist, historian, theologian and rector of Greek seminary, his variety and universality of work distinguish him from other writers of the period.[23] The most prominent figure among Arbëresh writers and the foremost figure of the Albanian nationalist movement in 19th-century Italy was that of Girolamo de Rada (Jeronim De Rada). Born the son of a parish priest of Italo-Albanian Catholic Church in Macchia Albanese (Maqi) in the mountains of Cosenza, De Rada attended the college of Saint Adrian in San Demetrio Corone. In October 1834, in accordance with his father's wishes, he registered at the Faculty of Law of the University of Naples, but the main focus of his interests remained folklore and literature. It was in Naples in 1836 that De Rada published the first edition of his best-known Albanian-language poem, the "Songs of Milosao", under the Italian title Poesie albanesi del secolo XV. Canti di Milosao, figlio del despota di Scutari (Albanian poetry from the 15th century. Songs of Milosao, son of the despot of Shkodra). His second work, Canti storici albanesi di Serafina Thopia, moglie del principe Nicola Ducagino, Naples 1839 (Albanian historical songs of Serafina Thopia, wife of prince Nicholas Dukagjini), was seized by the Bourbon authorities because of De Rada's alleged affiliation with conspiratorial groups during the Italian Risorgimento. The work was republished under the title Canti di Serafina Thopia, principessa di Zadrina nel secolo XV, Naples 1843 (Songs of Serafina Thopia, princess of Zadrina in the 15th century) and in later years in a third version as Specchio di umano transito, vita di Serafina Thopia, Principessa di Ducagino, Naples 1897 (Mirror of human transience, life of Serafina Thopia, princess of Dukagjin). His Italian-language historical tragedy I Numidi, Naples 1846 (The Numidians), elaborated half a century later as Sofonisba, dramma storico, Naples 1892 (Sofonisba, historical drama), enjoyed only modest public response. In the revolutionary year 1848, De Rada founded the newspaper L'Albanese d'Italia (The Albanian of Italy) which included articles in Albanian. This bilingual "political, moral and literary journal" with a final circulation of 3,200 copies was the first Albanian-language periodical anywhere.

De Rada was the harbinger and first audible voice of the Romantic movement in Albanian literature, a movement which, inspired by his unfailing energy on behalf of national awakening among Albanians in Italy and in the Balkans, was to evolve into the romantic nationalism characteristic of the Rilindja period in Albania. His journalistic, literary and political activities were instrumental not only in fostering an awareness for the Arbëresh minority in Italy but also in laying the foundations for an Albanian national literature.

The most popular of his literary works is the above-mentioned Canti di Milosao (Songs of Milosao), known in Albanian as Këngët e Milosaos, a long romantic ballad portraying the love of Milosao, a fictitious young nobleman in fifteenth-century Shkodra (Scutari), who has returned home from Thessalonica. Here, at the village fountain, he encounters and falls in love with Rina, the daughter of the shepherd Kollogre. The difference in social standing between the lovers long impedes their union until an earthquake destroys both the city and all semblance of class distinction. After their marriage abroad, a child is born. But the period of marital bliss does not last long. Milosao's son and wife soon die, and he himself, wounded in battle, perishes on a riverbank within sight of Shkodra.

19th-century Romantic poets

Contemporary literature

Protection of language


Traditions and Folklore

Among the Arbëreshë the memory of Skanderbeg and his exploits was maintained and survived through songs, in the form of a Skanderbeg cycle.[24]



The Arbëreshë cuisine is composed of the cuisines of Albania and Italy. The style of cooking and the food associated with it have evolved over many centuries from their Albanian origins to a mixed cuisine of Sicilian and Calabrian influences.

These traditional dishes are Piana degli Albanesi (Palermo, Sicily):

  • Strangujët – A form of Gnocchi called Strangujtë made with flour by hand, flavoured with tomato sauce (lënk) and basil. Traditionally this dish was consumed by families seated around a floor level table of wood (zbrilla) on 14 September, the Festa e Kryqit Shejt (Exaltation of the Cross).

  • Grurët – Boiled wheat dish flavored with olive oil, known as cuccìa in the Sicilian language. The tradition is to eat it on Festa e Sënda Lluçisë. Variations are the use of sweetened milk or ricotta with flakes of chocolate, orange peel and almonds.

  • Kanojët – Cannoli, the universally famous Pianotto sweet pastry. Its culinary secret is waffle (shkorça) of flour, wine, lard and salt and filled with sweetened ricotta, and lastly sprinkled with sieved chocolate.

  • Bukë – Arbëresh bread (bukë) is prepared with local hard grain flour and manufactured to a round and mostly leavened shape with natural methods. It is cooked in antique firewood furnaces (Tandoor). It is eaten warm flavored with olive oil (vaj i ullirit) and dusted with cheese or with fresh ricotta.

  • Panaret – Arbëresh Easter bread shaped either into a circle or into two large braids and sprinkled with sesame seeds. It is adorned with red Easter eggs. The Easter eggs are dyed deep red to represent the blood of Christ, the eggs also represent new life and springtime. It is traditionally eaten during the Resurrection Meal. After 40 days of fasting, as per the Byzantine Catholic tradition, the Easter feast has to begin slowly, with a light meal after the midnight liturgy on Saturday night. The fast is generally broken with panaret.

  • Loshkat and Petullat – Sweetened spherical or crushed shaped fried leavened dough. Eaten on the eve of E Mart e Madh Carnival.

  • Të plotit – A sweet cake in various shaped with fig marmalade filling, one of the oldest Arbëresh dishes.

  • Milanisë – Traditionally eaten on the Saint Joseph's Day (Festa e Shën Zefit) and Good Friday, is a pasta dish made with a sauce (lënk) of wild fennel paste, sardines and pine nuts.

  • Udhose and Gjizë – Homemade cheese and ricotta normally dried outdoors.

  • Likëngë – Pork sausages flavored with salt, pepper and seed of Fennel (farë mbrai).

  • Llapsana – Forest Brussel sprout (llapsana) fried with garlic and oil.

  • Dorëzët – Very thin home-made semolina spaghetti, cooked in milk and eaten on Ascension Day.

  • Groshët – Soup made of fava beans, chickpeas and haricot beans.

  • Verdhët – During Easter a kind of pie is prepared with eggs, lamb, ricotta, sheep cheese and (previously boiled) leaf stalks of golden thistle; in some villages, the young aerial parts of wild fennel are used instead.


The Italo-Albanian Catholic Church, particular church sui iuris, includes three ecclesiastical jurisdictions: the Eparchy of Lungro degli Italo-Albanesi for the Albanians of Southern Italy based in Lungro (CS); the Eparchy of Piana degli Albanesi for Albanians of Insular Italy based in Piana degli Albanesi (PA); the Territorial Abbacy of Santa Maria of Grottaferrata, with Basilian monks (O.S.B.I.) come from the Italo-Albanian communities, located in the only abbey and abbey church in Grottaferrata (RM).

The Italo-Albanian Church constituting Byzantine oasis in the Latin West, is secularly inclined to ecumenism between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church. It was the only reality, the end of the Middle Ages until the twentieth century, of Eastern spirituality in Italy.

There are institutions and religious congregations of the Byzantine rite in the territory of the Italo-Albanian Church: the Basilian Order of Grottaferrata, the Collegine Sisters of Sacra Famiglia, Piccole operaie dei Sacri Cuori and the congregation of the Basilian Sisters Daughters of Saint Macrina.

Notable Arbëreshë people


  • Documentary in Italian on Orthodox-Byzantine Epiphany in the village of Piana degli Albanesi:Part 1 [44] , Part 2 [45] , Part 3 [46]


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