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 culture and literature 

Piana degli Albanesi

The literature

In over five centuries the arbëreshë have also achieved important cultural and literary achievements.

Luca Matranga (1567-1619) was born in Piana, author in 1592 of the Christian Doctrine, the first work in the Arbëreshe language in Albanian literary history, and initiator in the early 1600s of the first school in which Albanian was taught. His work, although a modest translation, remains a faithful document of the ancient Tuscan dialect in Piana.

Some inscriptions in Albanian language found and published by Giuseppe Schirò [6] belong to this period, while the frescoes by the famous painter Pietro Novelli and some of the icons painted by the Cretan monks of Mezzojuso, now preserved in Piana, date back to the second half of the seventeenth century. 1937 seat of the Eparchy of the Albanians of Sicily.

Towards the first half of the 18th century the Arbëreshë Pianooti, in a phase of serious socio-cultural crisis, started a profound process of spiritual and cultural renewal thanks to the work of Fr. Giorgio Guzzetta, founder of the Greek-Albanian Seminary of Palermo, the institute that provided decisive support for the safeguarding and development of the religious and cultural heritage of the Sicilian-Albanian communities.

The seminary carried out its regenerative function by forming not only the priests of the Greek-Byzantine rite, but the entire ruling and intellectual arbëresh class. Some of the most illustrious representatives of the communities studied there: Paolo Maria Parrino, Nicolò Chetta, Giuseppe Crispi, Demetrio Camarda, Nicola Barbato, Giuseppe Schirò and many others.

The nineteenth and twentieth centuries recorded further progress in Italian-Albanian culture and literature. A large group of intellectuals, driven above all by romantic and Risorgimento principles, became interested in history, language, and popular poetic traditions.

The arbëreshë of Italy, and the plains in particular, contributed in this period with admirable efforts to the historical and cultural rebirth of Albania which returned to being a nation after more than five centuries of Turkish domination.

Great figures of Arbëreshë Pianooti intellectuals played a very prominent role in this mission. Among these, the figure and personality of Demetrio Camarda stands out, author of the famous essay on comparative grammatology on the Albanian language (Livorno, 1864) and of the Appendix (Prato, 1866) which constitute the first monuments of Italo-Albanian culture. The essay is the first scientific and systematic attempt to study the Albanian language based on the most modern linguistic theories of the time. Camarda's effort, although scientifically outdated today, however, contributed to the recognition of Albanian nationality by conferring on his language a dignity and independence that had hitherto been denied. In the Appendix he collected the best of the traditional folk poetry of the Albanian communities of Italy providing a further demonstration of the antiquity of that culture. Camarda, in addition to being a scholar and a man of faith, was also a convinced patriot and for this reason he soon had to leave Piana due to Bourbon persecutions.

Worthy continuer of Camarda's work was Giuseppe Schirò. Poet, publicist, historian, linguist, scholar and attentive collector of Sicilian-Albanian poetic traditions, first university professor of the Chair of the Albanian language at the Oriental Institute of Naples, Schirò left a vast literary production.

His writings were published from 1887 (Rapsodie Albanesi) to 1923 (Traditional songs). Among his best poetic productions are the youthful idyll Milo and Haidhe who knew several editions and a French translation, the poems Te dheu i huaj ("In a foreign land") published in 1900 and 1947, and Këthimi ("The return ”) Published posthumously in 1965. At the center of his tormented poetic reflections are the motifs of the Italo-Albanian literature initiated by the Calabrian-Albanian Girolamo De Rada.

The first historiographical research concerning the Albanian communities of Sicily and the publication of numerous unpublished documents are due to the multifaceted and inexhaustible cultural activity of Schirò. Thanks to its collections of popular literature, today there is a precious material that illuminates the rich poetic and ethnic heritage of the Sicilian-Albanians.

We could not complete this profile of the major representatives of the Arbëreshë culture and literature of Piana without remembering Cristina Gentile Mandalà, one of the first Arbëreshe women to dedicate herself to the enhancement of the ethnographic heritage of the Pianos; Nicola and Giuseppe Camarda, brothers of Demetrio, to whom we owe, respectively, several works of translation of Greek classics and the translation into the Piana dialect of the Gospel of St. Matthew (London, 1868); Nicola Brancato, Carlo Dolce and Trifonio Guidera, poets who interpret religious and popular sentiments; Msgr. Paolo Schirò who discovered Gjon Buzuku's Missal, the first work of Albanian literature (1555), and published the Sunday sheet Fiala e t'in'Zoti in the Arbëreshe language; Francesco Saluto, magistrate, author of legal essays and founder of the boarding school of the same name in Palermo which for long years, until the second post-war period, hosted numerous poor students of Piana; Giorgio Costantini, historian and careful lover of traditions; Marco La Piana who took the linguistic and etymological studies of Albanian to a very advanced stage, leaving a historical grammar and an etymological dictionary unpublished; the brothers Rosolino and Gaetano Petrotta, one, author of numerous cultural promotion initiatives and the other, a distinguished scholar of Albanian literature and first professor of Albanian language and literature at the Faculty of Letters in Palermo; papas Gjergji Schirò, tireless translator of Greek religious texts into the Arbëreshe language.

In the wake of such an important tradition is the present cultural contribution of Giuseppe Schirò Di Modica, poet and essayist; by Giuseppe Schirò Di Maggio, poet and playwright; by Antonino Guzzetta, linguist and professor of Albanian language and literature at the Faculty of Letters of the University of Palermo.

Finally, there are many other cultural expressions (the municipal library "Giuseppe Schirò", the civic museum "Nicola Barbato", cultural and promotional associations, public school institutions, iconographers, painters, mosaicists, artisans, who in various ways contribute validly to the safeguard and enhancement of the precious ancestral heritage.

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