The Arbëreshë (Arbëreshët e Italisë in Albanian) or the Albanians of Italy, also known as Italo-Albanians, ethnic and linguistic Albanian minority community living in southern Italy (mostly concentrated in scattered villages in the region of Calabria, but also with a few minor settlements in the regions of Apulia, Basilicata, Molise and Sicily).They are the descendants of mostly Tosk Albanian refugees who fled Albania between the 15th and 18th centuries as a result of the Ottoman Empire‘s invasion of the BalThey 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 cultural value exercised mainly by the two religious communities of the Eastern Byzantine Rite, based in Calabria, the “Corsini College” (1732) and then “Sant’Adriano College” of San Benedetto Ullano in 1794, and Sicily in the “Italo-Albanian Seminary” of Palermo (1735) then transferred to Piana degli Albanesi in 1945.
Today, 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) and Piana degli Albanesi (for the Arbëreshë of Sicily), districts of the Italo-Albanian Church and including the Monastery of Grottaferrata (RM), 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, an old variant of Albanian spoken in southern Albania, known as Tosk 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. In Italy the Arbëreshë language is protected by Law n. 482/99, concerning the protection of the historic linguistic minorities.
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 Latin America, especially in the USA, Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Mexico, Venezuela, Uruguay and Canada. It is estimated that the Albanians of Italy are about 100,000 (400,000 considering those outside the comunity and origin moved from Italy) and constitute one of the oldest and largest minorities in Italy. The Italo-Albanians they identify in the paper Italians the adoption, but original Albanians in spirit and identity. 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, but also identify themselves as Italian nationals, since they have lived in Italy for hundreds of years.
Today, in the light of historical events, the secular continuity of the Albanian presence in Italy is an aspect of exceptionality in the history of the peoples. Since 2017, with the subscription of the Republic of Albania and Kosovo, an official application for inclusion of the Arbëresh people has been submitted to the UNESCO List as a living human and social immaterial patrimony of humanityBefore the Ottoman invasion of Albania, the native people in the area of Albania were called Arbëreshë. In Italy, the Italian-born Albanians call themselves Arbëreshë and the language Arbërisht.
On the other hand, Albanians call their country Shqiperia, their language Shqipand themselves Shqiptarë (compare the Albanian word Shqip in the local name for the country and the language).
Arbëreshë is also used for themselves by the Arvanites, in Greece.
.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 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 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.
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.
After the death of Skanderbeg in 1468, the organized Albanian resistance against the Ottomans came to an end. Like much of the Balkans, Albaniabecame 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. 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.
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.