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Arbëreshe heraldry, by Luigi Taibi

The surnames used in Piana degli Albanesi and in the Albanian-speaking communities spread throughout Italy have always aroused great curiosity regarding their origin. Q This research conducted by doctor Luigi Taibi, who has allowed to publish an extract, allows us to trace many of the surnames still in use and widespread. In wishing you a good read, I remind you that you can support the work of protection, enhancement, research and dissemination by subscribing to the site or with a donation that you can make by clicking here.

Salvatore Vasotti

Schirò Piana degli Albanesi
Santuario Maria SS. Odigitria: simbolo araldico famiglia Schirò (foto Alessandro Ferrantelli)

With the fall of the Western Roman Empire (476 AD), Byzantium became the center of the reconstituted Mediterranean unity, acting as a mediator in spiritual and commercial exchanges between East and West. But the restored balance lasted until the eighth century AD.

Starting from the 9th century, due to the crumbling of the Mediterranean unity, due to the presence of the Muslims, the crisis of Byzantine power began which will have its epilogue in the 14th century. when, in May 1453, Byzantium was occupied by the army led by Mohammed II (1), the Ottoman Turks had already penetrated Asia Minor between the XIII and XIV centuries; with the fall of the capital of Byzantine Christianity, they tried to reach central Europe (2), in order to carry out the plan of military occupation as a prelude to the Islamization of the Ancient Continent and the definitive cancellation of Western Christian civilization. In fact, the Turkish-Ottoman military aggression continued until the 17th century, leading to the emergence of a situation of great instability and political uncertainty. The Ottoman project could have been realized expeditiously if in the Balkans, after the defeat of Bulgaria, Serbia and Bosnia, Albania had not proposed itself as the last bulwark of Christianity which for over 25 years the Turks tried in vain to overcome (3).

The early stages of the invasion of Albania saw the superiority of the invading armies triumph. The military compactness of the Turks, inspired by the unitary despotic principle, on many occasions prevailed over the small Albanian military formations, which instead

to fight by joining their forces, they found themselves facing the enemy advance without effective organization, poorly equipped and, above all, without a unitary guide, since they were headed by their respective local princes (4). Thus Tirana, Valkale, Dibra (5), Girocastra, Kanina, Dukati (6) fell one after the other.

A turning point in the anti-Turkish war came with the sudden decision of Giorgio Kastriota, brought up and raised at the court of the Sultan, to take the side of his compatriots and to decisively embark on the path of political and military unification of the Turkish state. 'Arberia. In Lezhè in 1444 the Kastriota - also known by the pseudonym of Iskanderbeg 'Prince Alexander", which the Turks attributed to him in order to exalt his warlike prowess and his military genius - managed to bring together the Albanian princes and form an army, modest in size but fierce and militarily well organized, which was able to stand up to the repeated Ottoman invasions. Kastriota established Kruja as the capital of the new Albanian state and exploiting the advantage that the Albanian territory offered him, mainly mountainous and not suitable for frontal clashes, forced the Turks to slow down their invasion and wait for more favorable times. So, until 1468, the year of Scanderbeg's death, the occupation of the Balkans marked time. It is from this date, that the Turks resumed with impetus and renewed vigor their plan to destabilize the Balkans.In rapid succession the main Albanian cities fell, Scutari, Durres, Vlora and finally Kruja, the city-symbol of the former state that Kastriota had managed to create for the first time in the history of Albania. This was the most critical period for the Albanian people, who, having lost their political and military unity, saw the cornerstones of their resistance to the occupation crumble one after the other. The discouragement and fear of being subjugated by an enemy so different in terms of language, culture, religion and civilization led many to explore the most extreme escape routes.

It was in this context, in fact, that many decided to follow the path of expatriation towards Italy. The exodus was the prologue to the foundation of the "colonies" in the land of Sicily and in southern Italy.

The choice of the Italian coasts was not accidental. Apart from the obvious considerations of

geographical order, it should also be noted that already in the previous centuries, if one does not want to go back even to the emigrations of the Illyrian tribes progenitors of the modern Albanians (Messapi and Japigi), there had been an exodus of Albanian people to Italy.

As Valentini recalls, from the 4th to the 17th century, there were several migratory currents without interruption, of which at least two traveled the same routes (7).

The first, from the regions of Bosnia, Serbia and Kosova (8), directed towards Scutari and nei

territories of Ducagino, Dibra, Emathia di Barlezio, constituting real tribes known by the name of Malisori (9). They were highlanders who had built their villages in the mountains and recognized themselves as affiliated with the (main) Miréditi tribe of Orosh, descendants of Scanderbeg's valiant fellow soldier, Gjon Marku.

Their tribe had an aristocratic constitution based on the code of Lek Dugagjini (10).

The other migratory flow saw a shift from the northern regions of Albania towards Greece and the Morea. Crossing the whole territory, passing through the centre, to the south, many tribes settled there and laid the foundations

for the first communities. Even in central Albania, as in northern Albania.

the mountain populations observed customary rules called, in this area, Scanderbeg's laws. Among these we must mention the Spathioti of the Spatria district in the Elbasan district; and finally the Chimariots of Mount Chimera (11) and the Acrocerauni (12), at the extremity of old Epirus, under the laws of Laberia (13).

Taking advantage of the crisis of the Byzantine Empire, the main Albanian families had established themselves in lordships, each of which controlled vast areas, recognized itself as a chief or prince of the territory and had its own army. The lords of the lands were only the first among peers among many other heads of the individual districts or tribes (14).

Among these we remember: the Kurbi of the lower Matja, from which the surname derives

Corbins; Shala which brought together the Lopes families, between Rriolli and Grizha and between Filati and Cameria;

the Mazi progenitors of the Masi del Malacassi and Janina; would follow, always in order of

antiquity (15), the tribe of Kuçi originating from Podgorica; Sgrui or Sgroi near Tirana

from which the Schirò would descend; Mesha in Muriqi village and Croja lands

and of Matja who gave the surname Messa or Messi; the Martaneshi tribe, always

in the mountains of Tirana, progenitors of the Marquises; the Matessi in the Matia valley and in the

Ducagini, who gave the Matesi; the Bua the powerful tribe of the Acrocerauni (16), which also included the community of the Spatos (17), lords of Angelocastro in Morea and also present

in Arcadia, Zakynthos and Arta.

The Masarachi or Masreku of the Castristas, who extended their influence from the Matja to the Dukagjin; the Mazarachi of the Malacassi, which Schirò translates into Bonacasa, and appear among the founders of Palazzo Adriano (18), settled in the Pindo and Malacastra regions; they follow the Hoti from which the Hote are descended; the Rriolli formed by the Congàj and Cökaj families, present in the eparchy of Patras, ancestors of the Riolos; the Suli; the Shala dei Sciales originating in the mountains east of Scutari; the Clementis who figure among the first families of the Morea; the Bitiqi of the Krieziu in the mountains of Jakova, and finally the tribe of the Lòtaj of Shala, ancestors of the Lotà.

We must also mention all those families of noble lineage which according to Valentini would not form tribes: the Gropa, the Musachia, founders together with Lala and Busicchi of Contessa Entellina; the Matranga at the head of the Coronei (19), the Bellusha; the Daras; the Grampsi from which the Gramsci would derive; the Clessi progenitors of the current Clesceri; the Manèsi or Manisi, among the founders of Palazzo Adriano; the Blessi or current Plescia (20), according to Sathas, of Janina; the Cambissi, the Busichi; the Carnesi; the Borgias of southern Valona,

and from the parts of Bilishti; the Doresa of Tirana; the Peta or Petta of the region of Peta and the

Libëria of Valona, ​​while those present in Sicily would originate from Andro; the Golemi of Loja, Basso Scutari, Kroja and Durazzo; the Barbates of the Gashi tribe in the Jokova Mountains; the Kraspi or Campisi della Malacassa, the Helmi, now disappeared, who appear in the birth registers of the church of San Demerio in Piana degli Albanesi (21), the Lascari, the Sqadhà, the Kalimani, the Zalapi, the Costantini, the Ales, the Chetta, the Stasi, the Dorangriqi, the Guzeta, the Rada, the Mandalà, the Zamandà, the Schilizzi, the Ciulla, the Camalò, and finally the Luccheresi and the Duçi.

Simplifying, we note that nine lineages came from the north: Barbati, Bellusha, Cambissi, Clementi, Dara, Hote, Riolo, Sciales. Three covered the north-central area Clessi, Messi and Reres. Twelve families are located indifferently from north to south: Barçia, Breshëri, Clossi, Cuccia, Golemi, Gramsci, Helmi, Manesi, Masarachi, Masi, Matesi, Plescia. Only five in the north and south: Carnesi, Duçi, Lopsi, Losha, Lotà, Suli. Seven in the centre: Basta, Busichi, Curbi, Gropa, Marchesi, Matranga, Sguro. Four in the center and in the south: Borgia, Dorsa, Musacchia, Spata. And finally seven families in the south alone: ​​Bua, Calabresi, Glaviano, Ipsari, Licuresi, Bonacasa and Peta (22).

As regards their political-military-territorial organization, the first step was represented by the village (Katund), which brought together families of different brotherhoods or different tribes. In turn, the individual tribes were divided into flags, or entire families, which bore the surname of their progenitor, called bishop (23).

The internal cohesion of the tribe was given by the common noble origin, which found in it the ties with the families of other villages; and it was also ensured by the internal institutions represented: by the single chief, by the merà, i.e. common grazing or cultivation land, and finally by the flag carried in war by the standard bearer and under which all the soldiers who recognized themselves as belonging to it enlisted ( 24),

The most common were those depicting the coat of arms of the Republic of Venice, which since 1204 had taken possession of Albania and Epirus, and was enlisting soldiers to defend the lands (25). Then various symbols were added which changed from tribe to tribe and which identified the corporation to which they belonged.

Among these we might recall that of the Xhileri family of Valona who wore an agate circled in gold and engraved with three trees and a pious inscription (26). As regards purely family use, it was customary to cover the bride's head with a ritual veil, represented precisely by the flag of the tribe or corporation to which the groom belonged. This as a sign of good wishes so that the bride could supply the community with new and valid warriors (27).

Of distinctive signs, as Valentini says, several could be listed, among these we can consider the traditional costume, which varied from region to region, and distinguished each individual belonging to a specific tribe (28).

The colors changed, the fabrics (29), the matching golds, and in particular the central element of the wall (brezi) which varied in size and in the symbolic elements depicted, exclusive to each tribe.

In the light of these observations it seems legitimate to suppose that the current brezi is in this way due to an inevitable evolutionary process that has modified it in its peculiar symbolic representation: the need to place an evident sign that distinguishes them from the Muslim religion (30), fundamental point to be welcomed in Christian land; the various dominations that have followed in Sicily, especially the Spanish one which has left evident signs precisely in the art and decorum, as well as the Inquisition (31) which historically belongs to that period by Ferdinand the Catholic. These could be the main reasons that have suggested a new "devotional" symbology to replace the one coming from the lands of origin. The current brezi (32), in fact, shows the patron saints of the town, and other commissioned saints, also present in Albanian churches even before the exodus to Italy (33). In the decorations, gold has replaced the filigree, while the belt once formed by elements joined by rings, is obtained from silver plates joined and articulated by means of very fine pins.

The stradiotic migration (34) towards the Morea and Greece, which began during the VI century, reached its peak during the fifteenth century, when Albania fell, the various tribes

they moved to Greece, where they felt more protected by the Turks.

The new populations mixed with those already present, incorporating them, or ended up

to take the name of the ànas (autochthonous) tribes. They shared ideas, customs, writing and religion, as happened for most of the Toski (lower Albania) (35) from which we descend.

After the last battles against the Turks around 1485, our ancestors took the road of exile on Venetian ships, directed to Sicily and southern Italy where they founded the colonies (36). Altogether there were seven transmigrations: the first in 1448 during the reign of Alfonso I, the second in 1461, the third in 1467, the fourth during the reign of Charles V of Austria in 1534, the fifth in 1647 under Philip III, the sixth in 1744 with Charles III and finally in 1774 with Ferdinand I, king of the two Sicilies. Each of them showed his gratitude towards the Albanians, for the services rendered to the crown, honoring them with various diplomas, benefits and economic aid (37).

The foundation of Piana degli Albanesi

The foundation of Piana degli Albanesi, as the foundation chapters attest, dates back to 1488 (38) and the exiles who took part in that deed were in their own name and representing all the Albanians: Giovanni Barbato, Pietro Bua, Giorgio Golemi, Giovanni Schirò, Giovanni Macaluso, Tommaso Jani, Antonio Troja, Matteo Mazza, Teodoro Dragotta, Giorgio Burlesci, Giovanni Parrino, Giorgio Ipsari, Giovanni Canniti, Giorgio Bruscari (39). It was also agreed that in the fiefdoms granted by the archbishop of Monreale (Merco and Dingoli), within three years of taking office, the Albanians were required to build their homes and start farming for sustenance. Under penalty of withdrawal of the same lands.

As Rosalba Catalano pointed out in "Piana degli Albanesi e il suo territorio": the town was divided into neighborhoods that took the name of the districts, churches and richest and most powerful families who emigrated from Albania, thus respecting the tribal organization of the land of origin, regulated by the aforementioned customary rules. We recall the district of Matranghi, Bovi, Cuccia, Mandalà, Flocca, Parrini, Petta, Schirò and Guzzetta (40).

And also in this case, on the basis of the documentation collected, it is possible to affirm that each of those families wore signs of recognition, mainly consisting of heraldic symbols.

Considering that the reference center of each district was represented by the churches, the noble families wanted to engrave their coat of arms inside them, as evidence of the contribution offered for their construction.

These either existed before their arrival or were reproduced on commission. As proof of what has been said we can consider the noble coat of arms of the Masi family which appears in the municipal coat of arms of Biancavilla (41).

As well as the coat of arms of the Guzzettas (42), which in the document under consideration is signed by Francesco Gramigiani, a skilled graphic engraver

of the time, which also Count Manzoni commissioned to create a painting of the Virgin Mary Odigitria kept by the heirs of the noble Albanian family of Piana.

The coats of arms which, elaborated on the computer, will be proposed in a future contribution, come from the diocesan archive of San Demetrio, from the chapels inside the mother church of Odigitria, of San Nicola and from the information collected in Vistari, Te Dhèu i Hùaj ( 43).

Dott. Luigi Taibi


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  1. ROBERTO CESSI, Oriente e Occidente nel Medio Evo in Questioni di Storia Medioevale, Marzorati, Milano 1946, p. 147. Cfr. SALVATORE PETROTTA, Albanesi in Sicilia, Storia e Cultura, ESA, Palermo, 1966, pp. 17-18; INDRO MONTANELLI, Storia D'Italia, vol. 1, L'Italia della controriforma, Varese 2003.

  2. "nel 1326 Uricano, figlio di Osmano fondatore della stirpe e della potenza osmanlica, estese in tutta l'Asia minore il suo dominio. Nel 1357 s'impadronì di Gallipoli, mettendo così la sua prima Sede In Europa; GIORGIO COSTANTINI, Studi Storici, a cura di Pietro Manali, "Quaderni di Biblos", Palermo 2000, p. 28.

  3. Cfr. DEMETRIO CAMARDA, Discorso preliminare, in Appendice al saggio di Grammatologia Comparata sulla lingua Albanese (ristampa anastatica), Grafiche Renna, Palermo, 1989, p. XLVI

  4. IVI, p. XI.VIII.

  5. GIUSEPPE SCHIRÒ, Te Dhèu i Hùaj. Poema in lingua albanese, Palermo Scuola tipografica"Boccone del Povero" 194, canto II "gli antenati" vv. 319-324, ora anche in Idem, Opere, IV, a cura di Matteo Mandalà, Rubettino editore, Soveria Manelli, 1997.

  6. Cfr. ZIJA SHKODRA, Esafet Shiptare ( Sbekujt XV - XX A Tirane, 1973; GIUSEPPE SCHIRO, Te Dhèu i Hùaj, cit., pp. 65-67, ora anche in IDEM, Opere, IV, cit., pp. 59-61

  7. Cfr. GAETANO PETROTTA, Svolgimento storico della cultura e della letteratura albanese, Palermo 1950; AA. VV., Les Illyriens. Aperçu Historique, sous la direction de Selim Islami, Tirane, 1985 AA.VV., Dialetti Italo-Albanesi e letteratura, Atti del XV Congresso Internazionale di Studi Albanesi, a cura di Antonino Guzzetta, Palermo 24-28 Novembre 1982, Pp. 15-16.

  8. Cfr. GIUSEPPE: VALENTINI S.J., Sviluppi onomastico-toponomastici tribali delle comunità albanesi in Sicilia, estratto dal Bollettino del Centro di Studi Filologici e linguistici Siciliani, Vol. IlI, G. Mori e figli, Palermo 1955 p. 5; ora anche in IDEM, Albanesi in Sicilia, a cura di Matteo Mandalà, Albanica 16, A. C. Mirror, Palermo 2003, p. 39; NICOLÒ CHETTA, Tesoro di notizie su dè Macedoni, introduzione di Matteo Mandalà, trascrizione di Giuseppe Fucarino, Helix Media Editore, Contessa Entellina, 2002, pp. 193-198.

  9. Cfr. DEMETRIO CAMARDA, Appendice, cit., p. I..

  10. Cfr. Studime e tekste, Dega 1, Jurdiken 1, 'Tiranë, Istituti i Studimevet Shqiptare, 1944.

  11. Cfr. GAETANO PETROTTA, Svolgimento,cit., pp. 19-21

  12. Cfr. GIUSEPPE SCHIRÒ, Canti tradizionali ed altri saggi delle colonie albanesi in Sicilia, r.a. Comune di Piana degli Albanesi, Palermo, 1986, p. LXX.

  13. Cfr. ISMET ELEZI, Sul diritto consuetudinario albanese, in La nuova Albania, 5/80; NUNZIO DELL'ERBA, Storia dell'Albania, Enciclopedia Newton.

  14. Cfr. DEMETRIO CAMARDA, Appendice, cit., p. XLVII; FULVIO CORDIGNANO, Studi Albanesi, La vita della montagna, vol. 7, istituto per l'Europa orientale, Roma, 1931, p. 63-87.

  15. Cfr. GIUSEPPE: VALENTINI S.j Sviluppi, cit., p. 10.

  16. IVI, p. 11

  17. G. SCHIRÒ, Canti tradizionali, cit, p. LXXI.

  18. IVI, p. XXVII.

  19. IVI, p. XXXIV.

  20. GIUSEPPE VALENTINI SJ, Sviluppi cit., p. 5, nota 94

  21. Ho potuto constatare personalmente il cognome Helmi presso l'archivio di San Demetrio di Piana degli Albanesi come riferisce anche il Valentini.

  22. Cfr. GIUSEPPI: VALENTINI, Il diritto delle comuità nella tradizione giuridica albanese. Generalità, Valecchi editore, 1956

  23. Cfr. AA. VV., Studi Albanesi, Istituto per l'Europa orientale, Roma 1930, pp. 65.

  24. Cfr. FULVIO CORDIGNANO, L'Albania, Istituto per l'Europa orientale, Roma 1931.

  25. IVI, pp. 65-66.

  26. Cfr. PAOLO PETTA, Stradioti. Soldati albanesi in Italia (sec. XV-XIX) Collana il Pianetascritto, 31, Bisanzio. G. MONTI, Due documenti sconosciuti sull'Albania di Alfonso 1 d'Aragona, in "Studi Albanesi", Istituto per l'Europa orientale, Roma 1930, pp.44-46; GAETANO PETROTTA, Studi di Storia e letteratura albanese, a cura di Matteo Mandalà, A. C. Mirror, p:11.

  27. AA.VV: Studime e Tekste, Juridike n.1, cit., p. 15. GIUSEPPE VALENTINI, Il diritto, cit., p.203

  28. Cfr. FULVIO CORDIGNANO, La vita della montagna, cit., p. 65.

  29. Cfr. IKBAL MUSTAFA, Motive popullore sigiptare tekstili e trikotzhi, Universiteti Shteteror i Tiranes, Istituti i gjuhesise, Sektori i Ethnografise, Tiranè 1959.

  30. Cfr. NICOLÒ CHETTA, Tesoro, cit., pp. 324-326.

  31. GASPARE: SCARCEILA, L'inquisizione in Sicilia.

  32. Anche il sig, Sergio Lucito, orafo di Piana degli Albanesi, presente in tutte le mostre internazionali con gli ori di Piana, ritiene che il brezi abbia seguito una progressiva evoluzione ricostruibile sulla base di queste motivazioni.

  33. Cfr. NICOLÒ CHETTA, Tesoro, cit., pp. 245-246.

  34. Cfr. GIUSEPPE VALENTINI, Il diritto, cit., p. 215, n. 22.

  35. Cfr. DEMETRIO CAMARDA, Appendice, cit., p. L.V; GAETANO PETROTTA, Svolgimento, cit., P. 15.

  36. GJOVALIN SHKURTAJ, Shpirti i arbrit rron, Shtëpia Botuese, Tiranè, 1984.

  37. TOMMASO MORELLI, Cenni storici sulla venuta degli albanesi nel Regno delle due Sicilie, stabilimento del Guttemberg, Napoli, 1842; cfr. anche GIUSEPPE SCHIRÒ, Gli Albanesi e la questione balcanica in IDEM, Opere, vol. IX, a cura di Matteo Mandalà, Rubettino editore, Soveria Manelli, 1997, pp. 213-215; GJOVALIN SHKURTAJ, Shpirti ...., cit. TOMMASO MORELLI, Cenni ...., cit.

  38. GIUSEPPE LA MANTIA, I capitoli delle colonie greco-albanesi di Sicilia, Regione siciliana, Il' edizione, 2004.

  39. IVI, p. 38; PIETRO SCAGLIONE, Historia e Shgipëtarevet t'Italisë, New York 1921, p. 62.

  40. ROSALBA CATALANO, Piana degli Albanesi e il suo territorio fonti documenti e progetti di sviluppo, A.C. Mirror, Palermo, 2003, pp. 48-19,

  41. La fondazione di Biancavilla, alla fine del XVI sec., è dovuta ad altri albanesi che, capitanati da Cesare Masi, vennero in trattativa con Tommaso Moncada, conte di Adornò; GIUSEPPE SCHIRÒ, Canti tradizionali, cit, p. XXVI.

  42. Vedere foto elaborate.

  43. GIUSEPPE SCHIRÒ, Vistari, Te Dhèu i Hùaj (ed. del 1940), in Opere, vol. Ill, a cura di Matteo Mandalà, Rubettino, Soneria Mannelli, 1998.



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