Arbëreshë are an ethnic community living in Italy, especially the regions of Calabria and Sicily. The Arbëreshë have their own distinct culture, villages and even language, they have been able to have keep their own identity over the centuries. The Arbëreshë are descendants of the original Albanians from Morea.Today they are mostly Byzantine Catholics belonging to the Italo-Greek Catholic Church in full communion with the Pope, with a Roman Catholic minority.
During the 15th and 16th centuries, Albania was being rapidy changed by Ottoman invaders who were forcing the Christian natives to convert to Islam or pay tollage. The people struggled against this with Skanderbeg as their hero and the support of the fellow Christian Europeans, but eventually lost their homeland Albania. Some managed to escape and were offered refuge from the repression by the Kingdom of Naples and Kingdom of Sicily (both under Aragonese rule), where the Arbëreshë were given their own villages and protected.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, their language has been influenced more by the Italian than have other Albanian dialects. The emigrations from Albania to Italy and Sicily have continued since the 15th century. Because of the language similarities, the Italian Government has housed significant numbers of Albanians from Kosovo in the Arbëresh settlements, most notably in Piana degli Albanesi in Sicily.
The Arbëreshë originally lived in Morea and in the Pindus mountains. They are descended from the proto-Albanian population dispersed throughout the western Balkans (see Arvanites). Between the 11th and 14th Centuries, the Arbëresh tribes moved in small groups towards the South of Greece (Thessaly, Corinth, Peloponnesus, Attica) where they founded colonies. Their military skill made them favourite mercenaries of the Serbs, Franks, Catalans, Italians and Byzantines.
The invasion of Greece by the Ottoman Turks in the 15th Century forced many Arbëreshë to emigrate to the south of Italy. Indeed, in 1448, King Alfonso V of Aragon, known as Magnanime (1396-1458), King of Naples, wanting to repress a rebellion of Italian lords, called on his ally, Gjergj Kastrioti i Krujës, known as "Skanderbeg", head of the Albanian Alliance. Several clans of Arbëreshë and Albanians were deployed to subdue the rebellion. Alfonso of Aragon rewarded them by giving them land in the province of Catanzaro. (see Stradioti)
At the time of the War of succession of Naples, Ferdinand of Aragon again called on Arbëresh forces against the Franco-Italian armies, and Skanderbeg disembarked in 1461 in Brindisi. After having achieved success, the Arbëresh accepted land in Puglia, while Skanderbeg returned to organize Albanian resistance to the Turks, who had invaded Albania between 1468 and 1492. Part of the Arbëresh population emigrated to southern Italy, where the Kingdom of Naples granted other villages to them (Puglia, Molise, Calabria and Sicily).
A further 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 again 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 final wave of Arbëreshë was in the 18th century with a group of Himariots (from the village of Himarë near Sarandë in southern Albania. These Himariots were fleeing a massacre instigated by Ali Pasha Tepelenë, who slaughtered 6000 Christian Albanians for refusing to convert to Islam. These refugees settled in Hora e Arbëreshëvet Piana degli Albanesi and subsequently founded the village of Sëndahstina Santa Cristina Gela.
The wave of migration from southern Italy to the Americas in 1900-10 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 there has been a wave of immigration into Arbëreshë villages by Kosovars and Shqiptar Albanians. Many differences are apparent between the new immigrants and the old diaspora in these villages, but there is still a sense of familiarity between them, who refer to each other as Jemi të gjithë Kushërinj edhe Gjaku jin i shprishur, ma na jemi arbëreshët e ata janë shkjiptarët. (we are all cousins and our blood is scattered, but we are the arbëreshë and they are the shqiptarë)
The main streets of many Arbëresh villages are named Via Giorgio Castriota after Skanderbeg.
"Albanese" or "Albanesi" which occurs in several of the Italian names above is the Italian language word for "Albanian" or "Albanians", respectively. ("Albanese" is also a common surname among the Arbëresh and their overseas descendants.)
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 fact, Arbërisht was the name of the Albanian language used in Albania prior to the Turkish invasion in the 16th century; as was the region itself called Arbëria.
The Italian linguist Mario Pei reported in The Story of Language that while a young man in Italy he had once boasted to a stranger that he knew and understood every Italian dialect. The stranger challenged Pei to understand the dialect of his own Italian village; Pei accepted, and understood absolutely nothing of what was said. The speaker proved to be an Arbëresh speaker, and enlightened Pei on the existence of Arbëresh.
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 the 14th September, the 'Festa e Kryqit Shejt' (exaltation of the Cross).
Boiled wheat dish flavored with olive oil, known as cuccìa in the Sicilian language. The tradition is to eat it on Festa e Shën Luçiës. Variations are the use of sweetened milk or ricotta with flakes of chocolate, orange peel and almonds.
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.
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.
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 Panarët.
Sweetened spherical or crushed shaped fried leavened dough. Eaten on the eve of E Mart e Madh Carnival.
A sweet cake in various shaped with fig marmellade filling, one of the oldest Arbëresh dishes.
Homemade cheese and ricotta normally dried outdoors.
Pork sausages flavored with salt, pepper and seed of Fennel (farë mbrai).
Forest Brussel sprout (llapsana) fried with garlic and oil.
Very thin home-made semolina spaghetti, cooked in milk and eaten on Ascension Day.
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 spp . pipentum) are used instead.