top of page

 foundation 

piana degli albanesi

The foundation

The foundation of Piana dates back to the end of the 15th century when, following the invasion of the Balkan peninsula by the Ottoman Turks, large groups of refugees sought refuge in the nearby coasts of southern Italy, where they founded a large number of new settlements.

The historiographical investigations carried out up to now have not yet arrived at certain and definitive results regarding their regions of origin. However, on the basis of the language, the religious rite, the onomastic and toponymic traces, it is assumed that the exiles came from the central and southern provinces of Albania, in particular from Labëria and Çamëria.

Equally problematic remains the delimitation of the time frame in which the phases of Albanian emigration to Italy took place. Generally, we tend to assume the death of Giorgio Kastriota Skanderbeg (1405-1468) as an ante quem term and the date of the colonies' foundation chapters as a post quem term.

In Sicily, the foundation of real Albanian colonies began in the second half of the 15th century. According to what Giuseppe Schirò affirms, the diaspora towards the island dates from 1485 [2] while Francesco Giunta, reconciling the oral tradition with the historiographical documentation, set the exodus between 1479 and 1481 [3].

Disembarked on the Sicilian coast, near Solunto, and forced by the local authorities to head inland for fear of possible reprisals by the Turkish pirates, the refugees searched in different parts of Sicily for the place to settle and after a few attempts, which lasted several years, they stopped in the large territories administered by the Archbishop's Mensa of Monreale [4], which assigned to the exiles two fiefs called Merco and Aindyngli.

The choice, neither casual nor difficult, was largely favored by the exceptional circumstances in which Sicily at the time was upset by great economic, social and demographic transformations that were causing, among other things, a gradual process of depopulation of the countryside.

Chapters and socio-institutional structures

The foundation chapters were drawn up on 30 August 1488 after the President of the Sicilian Kingdom, Raimundo di Santapau, had granted the Monreale authorities the licentia populandi (13 January 1487) which authorized the construction of a new rural center and its human settlement.

The Chapters regulated, for over three centuries, the relations between the contracting parties with onerous and heavy oppression compensated, in some way, by a very important article which provided for the right to elect Albanian officers and the autonomous administration of justice, without prejudice to the prerogatives due to the Archiepiscopal Mensa with regard to the right of "mero et mixto imperio". This faculty, recognized only to the arbëreshë of Piana, allowed the refugees to defend their traditions and above all the religious one, represented by the Greek-Byzantine rite.

The elections of the officers took place in the month of May of each year during a solemn religious function in the cathedral of San Demetrius. The Officers, chosen from among the members of the Greek-Byzantine rite, paraded in front of the highest ecclesial authority of the same rite, the Vicar Forane, and the population who thus testified their consent to the new administrative structure.

Public offices, similarly to what happened in the Sicilian administrations, operated according to a regime of clear separation of criminal from civil matters.

In criminal matters, a Captain of Arms, assisted by 12 provvisonatos or socios, opposed crime, supervised public order, supervised the main communication routes, issued notices and could inflict penalties to the exclusion of that capital.

In civil matters, four Jurors, including one Mayor, administered the municipal assets, took care of the collection of collective taxes, the University's tax charges, the various gabelles, the imposition of calmieri, compliance with health measures, activities commercial, administrative and territorial boundaries control, leasehold lease of common land for pastures.

The Jurors exercised their role in concert with the ecclesiastical authorities of Monreale and the civil authorities of the Kingdom of Sicily. Their resolutions, always adopted collectively, were made public through specific notices.

The minor officers (the treasurer, the health deputies, the holder of the books, the notary, the masters of the square, the Vicar Foraneo himself) while holding secondary roles in the administration of the University (this is how the Sicilian municipalities under the domination were defined Spanish), intervened in the application of the provisions issued by their direct superiors.

Such an administrative articulation placed respect for the Greek-Byzantine rite at the center of its action, but involved the exclusion from public office of the Latin minority which, while living with the Arbëreshe one, was forced to the margins of local power. Only the abolition of the feudal privileges of 1812 would also have allowed the Latins to access the management of administrative power even if since 1590 they had already obtained the right to profess their rite in the church of San Vito, built by the Arbëreshë.

The settlement

The Albanians, initially settled at the foot of Mount Pizzuta, due to the rigors of winter decided to go further downstream and so the town was built at the foot of a hill (Sheshi), which dominated an extensive flat area from which, most likely, it derived its name: Plana Archiepiscopatus Montis Regalis, later Piana dell'Arcbishop, then Piana dei Greci, and, finally, Piana degli Albanesi. According to popular tradition, the place was indicated by a miracle performed by the Madonna dell'Itria of which the refugees had brought a precious image from Albania.

In reality, the charm of the legend must be replaced by more objective reasons and facts, linked to the need for a new human settlement in long-abandoned fiefdoms, the proximity of stone quarries for the extraction of the material necessary for masonry constructions, the abundant waterways for the essential water supply, to the need to identify a healthy area not far from the workplace and, above all, well connected through the main communication routes, with the major inhabited centers (Palermo, Monreale, Corleone, Sciacca ). And the site identified fully met all these requirements.

The construction of the town, unlike that of other contemporary Sicilian towns built in compliance with precise urban planning rules, did not receive any regulation, but followed the impervious morphology of the rocky terrain.

The social, cultural and ethnic homogeneity of the arbëreshë immediately manifested itself with the rapid construction of the churches of the Greek-Byzantine rite (S. Giorgio and S. Demetrio of 1493 and 1498) and of the first infrastructures (the warehouse, the butcher's shop, the hospital, prison, the municipal building, the mills).

The settlers in a short time started the first agricultural activities, subjecting the territory to profound transformations and establishing solid commercial relations with the neighboring communities.

If we want to briefly consider the agricultural landscape of the two fiefdoms granted in emphyteusis, already in the second half of the 16th century an articulated picture of cultivation activities emerges.

The suburban area was rich in shrub crops protected by natural or artificial fences (the so-called "closed") while the feudal area, destined to host cereal activities, was proposed as a vast extension of bare lands inhabited only at certain times of the year. Only from the second half of the eighteenth century, following the construction of the farms, the settlers would move to the fiefdoms with their families.

Between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries agricultural activities were regulated according to the canons of the Sicilian feudal regime. The social organization that descended from it was, similarly to the Sicilian one, rather differentiated: on the one hand, with regard to income and prestige, there was a clear crystallization of social groups; on the other hand, a small local oligarchy was given the power to dispose of the capitular privileges for their own benefit. Thus it could happen that the officers, who succeeded each other in controlling the administration of the University, assumed the characteristics of a closed social class.

The demographic trend of the population also followed the alternating regional events highlighting the tendency to a gradual increase which demonstrated an optimal functioning of its internal mechanisms.

There is no news of how many refugees arrived in Sicily. Only a few surnames reported in the Chapters and in various notarial deeds are known chronologically very close to the date of foundation. The first census survey dates back to the revelation of 1548, to a subsequent period, therefore, to the arrival of other refugees from Corone and Modone. That year the inhabitants of Piana were calculated at 306 fires corresponding to 2,699 units.

The demographic increase of the secc. XV and XVII, confirmed also in the XVIII, indicates a progressive development of the community, which in the space of three centuries was starting to assume a central role among the Albanian colonies of Sicily.

[1] NdC. The text of this chapter has been freely drawn, modified and integrated from: Mandala M., The 500 years of the foundation of Piana degli Albanesi in Südost - Forshungen, Band XLVII, München, 1988.

[2] Schirò G., Traditional songs and other essays of the Albanian colonies of Sicily, Naples, 1923 (ra Municipality of Piana degli Albanesi, Palermo, 1986) now also in Schirò G., Opere, vol. VIII, Essays, Rubbettino, Soveria Mannelli, 1999, pp. 213-332.

[3] Giunta F., Albanesi in Sicily, Palermo, 1984, p. 27.

[4] V. La Mantia, The chapters of the Greek-Albanian colonies of Sicily in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Palermo, 1904, pp. 37-38.

bottom of page