PIANA DEGLI ALBANESI
Around the half of the 15th century, when the Balkans were taken over by the Turks, groups of local communities set out for Italy settling in Molise and Puglia regions. Towards the mid-16th century, an Albanian condottiere was called by Alphonse of Aragon to put down some local revolts; his troops settled in the Southern Italy, notably in Galaoria, and eventually in Sicily, in Piana degli Albanesi, where they were warmly welcomed by residents and allowed to practice their own Greek-Orthodox religion. The Catholic church granted them an ever-greater administrative and religious autonomy, what enabled them to maintain their traditions, language and literature. One of the major Albanian communities in Italy is today right centred in Piana degli Albanesi, that although completely integrated within the local population, retains their own ancient traditions, especially during religious festivals. The main season comes with Epiphany (twelve days after Christmas), then celebrations are completed with all the pomp and majesty of the Eastern Byzantine church complete with re-enactment of the Baptism of Christ; while at Easter, the locals wear their most splendid costumes typically embroidered with gold and silver before pouring out onto the main street and rallying before the churches of Santa Maria Odigitria, San Giorgio (not far away but actually in Via Barbato) and San Demetrio, the town’s main church. Outward signs of their heritage belie the surface, however, at all times in the local dialect they speak and in the Greek Orthodox masses they celebrate; even the road signs and street names are inscribed in two languages. The town itself has another name, Hora, meaning ‘the town’.
A short way south-west is a lovely artificial lake nestling silently amidst lushly green countryside; a view of this beautiful site can be enjoyed from the Basilian monastery just above the town.