Adam Yamey visits western Sicily to find out more about the Arberesh – Albanians who have lived there since they fled from the Balkans in the 15th century. Fully illustrated with plenty of black and white photographs, this attractive book is packed with anecdotes and historical information.
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
My long-held interest in the Balkans and the Albanians in particular inspired me to write this book.
I first came across the name ‘Garibaldi’ as a child in the late 1950s and early 1960s. At that time – and still today – there were biscuits bearing that name. They consist of a sandwich of two layers of thin pastry with a blackish paste of mashed currants holding them together. They are also known as ‘squashed flies’ because that is exactly what the fruit layer looks like! They were first manufactured in the UK in 1861, seven years after Giuseppe Garibaldi’s popularly acclaimed visit to the country and one year after he landed in Sicily . During his visit to England in 1854, where he was received with great popular enthusiasm, he was given much support by the locals, who approved of the liberation of Italy (but not of their own British colonies!). An experienced Master mariner, Garibaldi sailed his ship, the sailing vessel Commonwealth, to Tyneside, where the locals gave him a generous financial present. When he turned up in Brighton, 17,000 of its inhabitants each gave him a donation of 1 penny (i.e. a total sum worth at least £70,000 today). He also travelled to many other places in England, where he received substantial contributions to help him fund his forthcoming Sicilian expedition .
As already mentioned above, Garibaldi and his troops landed in Marsala in May 1860. Thereafter, they moved around Sicily during their extensive and successful struggle to liberate it from its Neapolitan (Bourbon) rulers. Wherever we went in Sicily, we saw plaques commemorating the fact that Garibaldi had stayed in this or that particular building. I have already mentioned the one that we saw in Mezzojuso, but cannot resist describing one that we noticed in Palermo at the end of our stay in Sicily. This particular plaque was above the principal entrance to the Palazzo Alliata di Villafranca in the Piazza Bologna, which used to be the Palermo terminus of the tramway to Monreale that ceased running in 1946. Proudly, it informs the reader that on the 27th May 1860, Garibaldi rested there “… per sole due ore” (i.e for only 2 hours). In contrast to this brief and rather inconsequential association, Piana degli Albanesi has a greater set of connections with the man who gave his name to a popular British biscuit and his efforts to liberate Sicily from the Bourbons (also the name of a popular British biscuit, incidentally).
According to the great British historian George Macaulay (‘GM’) Trevelyan (1876-1962), Piana dei Greci, the name by which Piana degli Albanesi was known until 1941, was the “… hearth of freedom in Western Sicily…” because, he felt, it was, “… peopled by Greek-Albanians flying from trouble in their own country, many of whose descendants preserved in this fastness of hills not only their Greek religion but the sturdy and independent character acquired by their ancestors in Balkan warfare. ” In April 1860 before Garibaldi landed in Sicily, there was an armed uprising on the island in which many Arberesh (or ‘Albanians’ as they were described by Trevelyan) took part. When it became evident that this was unsuccessful, the Arberesh returned to Piana with their leader Pietro Piediscalzi (1825-1860) , who was born in Piana and was to fall during a fight with the Bourbon army soon after his return to his birthplace. There is a street named in his memory in Piana. Trevelyan writes that had the Arberesh given up the fight at this point, other communities in Sicily would have been unlikely to continue the struggle for much longer.
On the 20th of April 1860, Rosolino Pilo (1820-1860), an important Sicilian revolutionary, who was born in Palermo and took part in the 1848 uprising , arrived in Piana. Without any solid basis for doing so, he announced to the Arberesh that Garibaldi’s arrival in Sicily was imminent (even though he had not actually set a date for sailing yet). This good news caused the Arberesh in Piana to begin rounding up patriots from the surrounding townships in order that the fight for liberation could resume with greater vigour . This illustrates the importance of Arberesh fighters in the liberation of Sicily.
Piana assumed great importance on the 25th May 1860 when Garibaldi, who was by now in Sicily, ordered the retreat of his troops, the so-called ‘Thousand’, to the town after suffering defeat by the forces in Palermo under the command of the Swiss born Lukas Von Mechel (1807-1873) from Basel . Whilst in Piana, Garibaldi conceived a plan that he hoped would reverse his defeat. So it was that before darkness fell, he led all of his troops and equipment out of the town along the road that led south towards Corleone. It was important that all, including his enemies, should see him heading in that direction away from Palermo. Later, in the dead of night when his army was 2 miles away from Piana, he divided his force into 2 sections. One of these that consisted of wounded men and broken artillery was ordered to continue towards Corleone. The rest of his army, fit and well-equipped, were led across country to a point near to Santa Cristina Gela from where they followed a rough mountainous track towards Marineo, from where they could approach Palermo in secret.
Born in London (UK) in 1952. A dentist by profession, and a writer when not treating patients! Author of 2 novels and several travel books.
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