Arbëreshë: Albanians in Italy

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The ethnicity of a people is always a fundamental factor for the personal growth, history and vision of the world of the people of that people. Who are the Arbëreshë and what is their culture?

What Does Arbëreshë Mean? 

The Arbëreshë are the descendants of Tosk, who departed from the Morea between the fourteenth and eighteenth centuries, participating in the Ottoman development up to the Balkans.

During the Middle Ages, the Arbëreshë settled in the Kingdom of Naples with a series of migrations, supporting the establishment of the Kingdom of Albania, with the Albanian national hero Gjergj Kastrioti Skënderbeu and with the gradual occupation of the Byzantines.


Their society identified itself in language, in Catholic religious beliefs of the Byzantine rite, in standard customs, in art and gastronomy, still jealously preserved, with the awareness of belonging to a certain sociolinguistic lineage. 

Over the centuries the Arbëreshë have in fact taken steps to preserve and create their identities also thanks to their cultural value mainly exercised by the two Byzantine rite religious communities based in Calabria, the Corsini College in 1732, then the Collegio di San Benedetto Ullano Italo -Albanese di Sant’Adriano in 1794, and the Italo-Albanian Seminary of Palermo in 1735.

Today most of the fifty Arbëreshë districts are faithful of the Italo-Albanian Church. They come from 2 eparchies, the Lungro, for the Arbëreshë of mainland Italy, the Piana degli Albanesi, for the Arbëreshë of Sicily, and also the Monastery of Grottaferrata, whose monks come from the Albanians of Italy. The church is the most active company in maintaining the characteristic religious, ethnic, traditional and linguistic identification of the arbëreshë community.

What Language Do the Arbëreshë Speak? 

The arbëreshë speak arbëresh, an Albanian tosk variety that involves the combination of codes with the local Romance languages ​​of Italy. It is of particular interest to students of the contemporary Albanian language as it retains the sounds of the language, the morphosyntactic elements and also of the vocabulary of the language spoken in pre-Ottoman Albania.

Where Do the Arbëreshë Live?


The Arbëreshë are scattered throughout southern Italy as well as in Sicily and in small numbers also in various other parts of Italy. There are a great many in North and South America, particularly in the United States, Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Mexico, Venezuela, Uruguay and Canada, as well as in the United Kingdom. They constitute one of the oldest and largest minorities in Italy, it is estimated that there are about 100,000 Arbëreshë. 

When they speak of their “country”, the Arbëresh use the term Arbëria, a generic geographical term for the widespread villages in southern Italy that use the Arbëresh language. They are proud of their Albanian ethnicity, identity and culture. They also identify as Italian citizens, having lived in Italy for hundreds of years. 

In light of historical events, the centuries-old continuity of the Albanian presence in Italy is phenomenal. In 2017, with the Republic of Albania, an official application was presented for the addition of the Arbëresh individuals to UNESCO as an intangible social and living human heritage of humanity.

The Arbëreshë in Sicily


The Arbëreshë communities are divided into numerous ethnic communities corresponding to different areas of southern Italy. Some places have already lost their original characteristics and language, others have completely disappeared. Today Italy has 50 communities of Arbëreshë origin and culture, 41 municipalities and 9 countries, distributed in seven regions of southern Italy, forming a population of about 100,000 inhabitants.

The Migrations of the Arbëreshë

Skanderbeg led 2,500 Albanian soldiers to the Kingdom of Naples in 1458. The battle of Torvioll in 1444 was the first real battle between Skanderbeg and the Ottoman Turks. The Arbëreshë, between the fourteenth and eleventh centuries, moved in small groups in the direction of main and southern Albania and also of northern and southern Greece. Their military prowess made them the favorite mercenaries of 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 southern Italy. Following a request from Albanian soldiers, King Alfonso granted them lands and in 1448 they settled in twelve villages in the mountainous area of ​​Catanzaro. A year later the sons of Demetrio, Giorgio and Basilio together with other Albanians settled in four villages in Sicily.


This time, the legendary leader himself came to Italy with his troops led by one of his generals, Luca Baffa, to put an end to a French insurrection. Skanderbeg was appointed head of the Neapolitan-Albanian army and, after winning two decisive battles, the Albanian soldiers defended Naples. This time they were rewarded with lands in Puglia, populating another 15 villages.

After Skanderbeg’s death in 1468, Albanian organized resistance against the Ottomans ended. From the moment of Skanderbeg’s death until 1480 there were continuous migrations of Albanians to the Italian coasts. Throughout the sixteenth century these migrations continued and other Albanian villages formed on Italian soil.


Another wave of emigration, between 1500 and 1534, is associated with the Arbëreshë from central Greece. Employed as mercenaries by Venice, they needed to leave the Peloponnesian settlements with the assistance of Charles V’s troops, as the Turks had invaded that area. Charles V trained these soldiers in southern Italy to strengthen the defenses against the risk of Turkish intrusions. Settled in isolated villages (which allowed them to maintain their culture until the twentieth century), the Arbëreshë were soldiers of the Kingdom of Naples and the Republic of Venice, from the wars of religion to the Napoleonic invasion.

Subsequent Migrations of the Arbëreshë

The migratory wave from southern Italy to the Americas in 1900, 1910 and 1920, 1940, depopulated about half of the villages of Arbëreshë, as well as subjecting the population to the threat of cultural disappearance, despite the beginning of a revival social in the 19th century. Since the end of communism in Albania in 1990, there has been a wave of immigration to the cities.

Where the Arbëresh Language is Spoken 

Arbëresh derives from the dialect spoken in southern Albania and is also spoken in southern Italy in Calabria, Molise, Puglia, Basilicata, Campania, Abruzzo, as well as Sicily. All the dialects of Arbëresh are closely related to each other, however they are not entirely intelligible to each other. The road signs are multilingual (in Italian and also Albanian) in Piana degli Albanesi, in Sicily.

The Arbëresh language is more archaic than Standard Albanian, but is similar enough to be written using the same alphabet as Albanian. 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.

The Arbëresh language was often called Albanian in Italy until the 1990s. Until recently, Arbëresh speakers had very imprecise concepts about how exactly their language was associated or unrelated to Albanian.

Until the 1980s arbëresh was exclusively a spoken language, in addition to its written form used in the Italo-Albanian Church, just as the Arbëreshë had no connection with the standard Albanian language used in Albania, since they did not use this form in writing. or in the media. Subsequently, a large number of immigrants from Albania began to enter Italy in the 1990s and also came into contact with the regional areas of Arbëreshë.

Considering that in the 1980s, some initiatives were set up to protect the linguistic and cultural heritage of the language. The Arbëresh has actually been in slow decline over the last few decades, however it is currently experiencing a renaissance in many Italian cities. 

There is no official political, cultural or administrative structure representing the Arbëresh community. Arbërësh is not one of the minority languages ​​that have the special defense of the state under Article 6 of the Italian Constitution. At the regional level, however, the Arbëresh is recognized a certain level of main recognition in the statutes of freedom of Calabria, Basilicata and even Molise.

In the case of Calabria, the intention is to offer recognition to the historical society and the creative heritage of the Arbëresh populations and to encourage the formation of both languages ​​in the places where they are spoken.

There are associations that try to safeguard culture, particularly in the province of Cosenza. The Arbëresh language is used in some private radios and also in publications. The basic regulations of the towns of Molise, Basilicata and even Calabria refer to the Arbëresh language and culture. 

Arbëresh Literature 

While in the 17th century there were no Arbëresh writers, in the 18th century lived Giulio Variboba (1724-1788, Jul Variboba), considered by many Albanians to be the first true poet of all Albanian literature. As a poet he wrote verses in both Albanian and Greek languages ​​and also composed the first Albanian sonnet in 1777. In the revolutionary year 1848, De Rada founded the newspaper L’Albanese d’Italia, which included articles in Albanian.

De Rada was the forerunner and the first audible voice of the Romantic movement in Albanian literature, a movement which, influenced by its infallible power in favor of national awakening among Albanians in Italy and the Balkans, had to evolve precisely in the romantic nationalism characteristic of the Rilindja period in Albany. His journalistic, literary and political activities have been instrumental not only in promoting awareness of the Arbëresh minority in Italy, but also in laying the foundations for a national Albanian literature.

One of his most important literary works are the Songs of Milosao, a long romantic ballad that represents the love of Milosao, a young noble of the 15th century, who has returned home from Thessaloniki. Right here, at the village fountain, he falls in love with Rina, the daughter of the shepherd Kollogre. The difference in social position between lovers prevents their union for a long time until an earthquake will ruin both the city and any form of social discrimination. After their marital relationship abroad, a child is born. But the period of marital bliss does not last long. Milosao’s son and his wife soon die, and he himself, wounded in combat, dies on a beach within sight of Shkodra.

The Arbëresh Church


The Italo-Albanian Catholic Church, being a Byzantine territory in the Latin West, has for centuries been inclined to ecumenism between the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. It was the only residence of Eastern Christianity from the end of the Middle Ages to the 20th century in Italy.

In the territory of the Italo-Albanian Church there are establishments and spiritual congregations of the Byzantine ceremony: the Basilian Order of Grottaferrata, the Collegine Sisters of the Holy Family, Little workers of the Sacred Hearts and the congregation of the Basilian Sisters Daughters of Santa Macrina.

The main churches are: the Lungro Cathedral of the Italo-Albanians of Southern Italy. The Cathedral of Piana degli Albanesi of the Italo-Albanians of Sicily, Italy. The Territorial Abbey of Santa Maria di Grottaferrata with Basilian monks from the Italo-Albanian area.

The arbëresh village


“Gjitonia” is a form of neighborhood typical of the arbëresh communities and widespread throughout the arbëresh people. The Gjitonía functions as a microsystem around which the life of the hore (village) revolves; the Gjitonía is a smaller-scale version of the village layout often consisting of a small square towards which the alleys are oriented, surrounded by buildings that have openings towards a larger square (shesh) on diagonal corners. Especially for the Italian-Albanian communities, it is a world in which relationships were so strong as to create real family relationships, so much so that the phrase arbëreshe Gjitoni gjirì (“neighborhood relatives”) is typical.



The Arbëreshë cuisine is made up of the cuisines of Albania and Italy. Food preparation and related ingredients have been influenced over the centuries by their Albanian origins to a mixed cuisine of Sicilian, Calabrian and Lucanian influences.

These traditional dishes are: Strangujët, a kind of dumplings called Strangujtë made with hand flour, flavored with tomato sauce (lënk) and even basil. Generally this recipe was consumed by family members seated around a wooden table (zbrilla) on September 14, the Feast and Kryqit Shejt (Exaltation of the Cross).

Grurët is a boiled wheat flour flavored with olive oil, called cuccìa in Sicilian. The custom is to eat it on the occasion of the feast of Sënda Lluçisë. The variants use sweetened milk or ricotta with chocolate flakes, orange peel and almonds.

Kanojët is the universally known sweet bread. His culinary trick is the waffle (shkorça) of flour, salt, lard and wine and also filled with sugared ricotta, and finally sprinkled with delicious sifted chocolate.

Bukë, Arbëresh (bukë) bread is made with local durum wheat flour and is produced in a round shape. It is prepared with ancient wood heating systems (Tandoor). It is eaten hot seasoned with olive oil and also cleaned with cheese or fresh ricotta.

Panaret: Arbëresh Easter bread in the shape of a circle or in two large braids and sprinkled with sesame seeds. It is decorated with red Easter eggs. Easter eggs are dyed deep red to represent the blood of Christ, likewise the eggs represent new life and spring. It is generally consumed during the Resurrection Meal. After 40 days of fasting, according to Byzantine Catholic practice, the feast of Easter must begin gradually, with a light meal after the twelve o’clock celebration on Saturday evening.

Loshkat and also Petullat: Sweetened or fried flattened yeast dough in a spherical shape. Consumed on the eve of Carnival. Të plotit: a sweet cake with a dental filling of fig jam, one of the first Arbëresh recipes. Milanisë: traditionally eaten on St. Joseph’s day as well as on Good Friday, it is a pasta recipe based on a sauce of wild fennel, sardines and pine nuts.

Udhose and also Gjizë: homemade cheese and also ricotta usually dried outdoors. Likëngë: pork sausages flavored with salt, pepper and fennel seeds. Llapsana: wild Brussels sprouts fried with garlic and oil. Dorëzët: Very thin homemade semolina spaghetti, cooked in milk and also eaten on Ascension day. Groshët: Soup made with broad beans, chickpeas and even beans. Verdhët: During Easter, a sort of pie is prepared with eggs, lamb, ricotta, pecorino as well as golden thistle leaf stalks. 

Movies to Watch on the Arbëresh

Adriatico – United Sea of Europe

Adriatico – United sea of Europe is a documentary to discover the Slavic and Albanian communities that settled in Italy over the centuries, after the Ottoman invasion of the Balkan Peninsula. A film in which the voices of researchers, academics, scholars, teachers and musicians, including the well-known Bosnian composer Goran Bregović, are mixed, with the aim of recovering the historical memory of ethnic-linguistic minorities, enhancing their language, customs and costumes. 

“Adriatico” was filmed in the countries of central Italy with Arbëreshë and Croatian minorities, in Croatia, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in particular in the area of ​​the Biokovo mountain range and the Narenta river, places of origin of the Slavs of Molise. But also in Albania and Geneva where the testimony of the Bosnian musician Goran Bregović was collected, who embodies the concept of cultural contamination.

Watch Adriatico – United sea of Europe

Altin in the City

Altin, an aspiring Albanian writer who landed in Italy aboard a large ferry in the 90s, works in a butcher’s shop when he is selected for an audition for a reality show for writers and finally sees the possibility of to be successful with his book “Ismail’s Journey”. Instead, it is the moment in which his misadventures begin that will lead him to know revenge, loneliness, poverty, up to the dark side of wealth and success.

Art, ambition and desire for social redemption in a dramatic thriller that could be a contemporary Faust. When creativity meets the greed of show business, and its values ​​merge in the pursuit of popularity and success.

Watch Altin in the City

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