Arbëreshë people

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Total population
Regions with significant populations
Italy (Abruzzo, Basilicata, Calabria, Campania, Molise, Apulia, Sicily) Between 80,000[1] and 800,000 (ancestry) people.[2][3][4]
Canada, United States Unknown
South America Unknown
Arbëresh language, Italian
Italo-Albanian Catholic Church
Related ethnic groups
Albanians, Italians
Albanian diaspora

The Arbëreshë are an ethnic and linguistic Albanian minority community living in southern Italy, especially the regions of Apulia, Basilicata, Molise, Calabria and Sicily.[5] They are the descendants of the Albanian refugees who fled Albania between the 15th and 18th centuries as a result of the Ottoman empire's invasion of the Balkans. They number between 80,000[1] and 100,000 people.[2] Their population in Italy was around 260,000 inhabitants in 1976,[3] but many today are fully assimilated into the Italian society.[6]

They settled in Southern Italy between the 15th and 18th centuries in several waves of migration, following the death of the Albanian national hero George Kastrioti Skanderbeg and the gradual conquest of Albania and the Byzantine Empire by the Ottoman Turks. Their culture is determined by the main features that are found in language, religion, traditions, customs, art and gastronomy, still jealously 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 stubbornness and cultural value exercised mainly by the two religious communities of the Eastern Byzantine Rite, based in Calabria, the "College Corsini" (1732) and then "College Sant'Adriano" of San Benedetto Ullano in 1794, and Sicily in the "Seminary Italo-Albanian" of Palermo (1735) then transferred to Piana degli Albanesi in 1943.

Today, most of the fifty Arbëreshë communities still preserve the Byzantines belonging to the Italo-Albanian Church of Eastern Rite. They belong to two Eparchies: to Lungro for Arbëreshë in continental Italy, and that of Piana degli Albanesi for the Arbëreshë of Sicily. The Byzantine Eparchy is the most important for the maintenance of the characteristic religious, ethnic, linguistic, and traditional identity of the Arbëreshë community. The Arbëreshë speak Arbërisht, an old variant of Albanian spoken in southern Albania. 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. In Italy the Arbëreshë language is protected by the law n. 482/99 concerning the protection of the historic linguistic minorities.[7]

The Arbëreshë are scattered throughout southern Italy and Sicily, and constitute one of the largest linguistic minorities in Italy. To define their "nation", Arbëresh speakers use the term Arbëria.[8]



Prior to the Ottoman invasion of Albania, the native people in the area of Albania were all called Arbëreshë. After some were forced out of their homeland to Italy, these Italian-born Albanians continued to use the term Arbëresh whilst those in Albania called themselves Shqiptarë (compare the Albanian word Shqip, present in the local name for the country and the language).

The term "Arbëreshë" is also used for themselves by the Arvanites, a bilingual community long resident in Greece.


Villages in Italy

Part of a series on
Albanian culture
Albanian language

The Arbëresh villages have 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, as well as the language, while others have totally disappeared. Today in Italy there are 50 communities of Arbëreshë origin and culture, 41 municipalities and 9 villages, spread across seven regions of southern Italy, forming a population of over 1.100,000.[citation needed] 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, Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Uruguay and the United States, there are strong communities that keep Arbëreshë-Albanian traditions alive.

The full list of the Arbëresh Community in Italy is:[9]

Albanians diaspora


Early migrations

The Arbëreshë, between the 11th and 14th centuries, moved in small groups towards the central and southern Albania and the north and south of Greece (Thessaly, Corinth, Peloponnesus, Attica) where they founded colonies. Their military skill made them favourite 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 Epiro 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.[10]

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.[11]

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 Skanderberg'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.[12] 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.[citation needed]



Arbërisht language classification

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.

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

The Arbëresh language retains many archaisms of medieval Albanian from the pre-Ottoman invasion of 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 the Italian language) 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".[13]

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.[14] 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.


To cater for their Eastern Catholics in Byzantine Rite and Albanian language, there are three ecclesiastical jurisdictions composing the Italo-Albanian Catholic Particular church sui iuris :


Main article: Albanian literature

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) known in Albanian as Jul Variboba, is regarded by many Albanians as the first genuine poet in all of Albanian literature.[15] 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 1861 and there he published in 1862 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 1877. 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.[16] The most prominent figure among Arbëresh writers and the foremost figure of the Albanian nationalist movement in nineteenth century Italy was that of Girolamo de Rada known in Albanian as Jeronim De Rada. Born the son of a parish priest of Italo-Albanian Catholic Church in Macchia Albanese (Alb. 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 newspaperL'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.

Romantic poets of 19th century

Contemporary literature


These traditional dishes are Piana degli Albanesi (Pa, 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 dish. 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 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 Scolymus hispanicus; in some villages, the young aerial parts of wild fennel (Foeniculum vulgare pipentum) are used instead.

Notable Arbëreshë

History and Politics

Science and Academia

Business and Civil Society




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


See also


  1. ^ a b Handbook of ethnotherapies, Christine E. Gottschalk-Batschkus, Joy C. Green, BoD – Books on Demand, 2002, ISBN 3831141843, p. 110.
  2. ^ a b Ethnobotany in the New Europe: People, Health and Wild Plant Resources, vol. 14, Manuel Pardo de Santayana, Andrea Pieroni, Rajindra K. Puri, Berghahn Books, 2010, ISBN 1845458141, p. 18.
  3. ^ a b Albanian, Arbëreshë - A language of Italy - Ethnic population: 260,000 (Stephens 1976).
  4. ^ M.Dow:"The History of Albanians in Italy",2002,pg.50.
  5. ^ Minni, C. Dino; Ciampolini, Anna Foschi (1990). Writers in transition: the proceedings of the First National Conference of Italian-Canadian Writers. Guernica Editions. pp. 63–4. ISBN 978-0-920717-26-4. Retrieved 30 September 2010. 
  6. ^ The Language and Politics, Edinburgh Textbooks in Applied Linguistics, John Earl Joseph, Edinburgh University Press, 2006, ISBN 0748624538, p. 60.
  7. ^ [1]
  8. ^ Even if the reference is always Albania.
  9. ^ Complete list of the Albanian villages in the Community 's Italy
  10. ^ The Italo-Albanian villages of southern Italy Issue 25 of Foreign field research program, report, National Research Council (U.S.) Division of Earth Sciences Volume 1149 of Publication (National Research Council (U.S.)) Foreign field ressearch program, sponsored by Office of Naval research, report ; no.25 Issue 25 of Report, National Research Council (U.S.). Division of Earth Sciences Volume 1149 of (National Academy of Sciences. National Research Council. Publication) Author George Nicholas Nasse Publisher National Academy of Sciences-National Research Council, 1964 page 24-25 link [2]
  11. ^ The Italo-Albanian villages of southern Italy Issue 25 of Foreign field research program, report, National Research Council (U.S.). Division of Earth Sciences Volume 1149 of Publication (National Research Council (U.S.))) Foreign field ressearch program, sponsored by Office of Naval research, report ; no.25 Issue 25 of Report, National Research Council (U.S.). Division of Earth Sciences Volume 1149 of (National Academy of Sciences. National Research Council. Publication) Author George Nicholas Nasse Publisher National Academy of Sciences-National Research Council, 1964 page 25 link [3]
  12. ^ The Italo-Albanian villages of southern Italy Issue 25 of Foreign field research program, report, National Research Council (U.S.). Division of Earth Sciences Volume 1149 of Publication (National Research Council (U.S.))) Foreign field ressearch program, sponsored by Office of Naval research, report ; no.25 Issue 25 of Report, National Research Council (U.S.). Division of Earth Sciences Volume 1149 of (National Academy of Sciences. National Research Council. Publication) Author George Nicholas Nasse Publisher National Academy of Sciences-National Research Council, 1964 page 26 link [4]
  13. ^ New Albanian Immigrants in the Old Albanian Diaspora: Piana Degli Albanesi. Eda Derhemi
  14. ^ Euromosaic - Albanian in Italy.
  15. ^ Albanian literature: a short history Authors Robert Elsie, Centre for Albanian Studies (London, England) Publisher I.B. Tauris, 2005 ISBN 1-84511-031-5, ISBN 978-1-84511-031-4 p. 45
  16. ^ Albanian literature: a short history Authors Robert Elsie, Centre for Albanian Studies (London, England) Publisher I.B.Tauris, 2005 ISBN 1-84511-031-5, ISBN 978-1-84511-031-4 p. 46-47

External links