The Curious Case of Piana degli Albanesi
A 15th century Albanian refugee colony just above Palermo, Sicily and its continuing dual identity
Little children are able to spot Italy on a world map rather easily thanks to its distinct boot shape. A peninsula with two large islands (and many more smaller ones), it is hemmed in on three sides by seas, and above by the Alps. A perfectly self-contained unit. It’s these most natural of borders that have resulted in geneticists learning that Italians are rather quite their own people autosomally, even if they share the same descent, in broad strokes, with all other Europeans.
Most people are only able to name one non-immigrant minority in Italy, that being the German-speaking Tyroleans of South Tyrol. Few foreigners are aware of the role played by Greeks, Albanians, and Croatians in populating parts of Southern Italy as refugees from the Ottoman invasion of the Balkans. Yet they arrived and still exist today, scattered throughout Abruzzo, Molise, Apulia, Calabria, and Sicily. These communities have interested me for some time, particlarly the Molise Croats (for obvious reasons), as none of these groups were speakers of a Romance language prior to their arrival on the Italian Peninsula.
Growing up around Italians, one would often hear surnames like Albanese or Albano, but I never clued in that they might refer to some deeper heritage in that person’s paternal line. Frankly, I knew very little about Albanians, especially their various diasporas, both old and new, until the mid-90s. And it was only recently that I began researching the Arbereshe, the Albanian communities in the Italian Peninsula.