Saturday, November 19, 2022

Costumes of the Arbëreshë, or Italo-Albanesi, part 1 Sila Arbëreshë

Hello all, 

Today I would like to start talking about the costumes of the people known as Arbëreshë, or Italo Albanesi, although the Italians sometimes call them Greci. These are Albanian speaking people that inhabit southern Italy, in scattered villages from Sicily up to Abruzzo, with the largest concentration being in Calabria.

These settlements started in 1448, when the King of Naples, Alfonso V granted land to Albanian Mercenaries to settle on. When the Kingdom of Albania ruled by Skanderberg fell to the Ottomans, more  Albanian settlers came to Italy. These continued in various waves over the centuries. These colonists have retained much of their folk tradition in language, music, costume, and especially religion, as most of them are members of the Albanian Eastern Catholic Church. Currently there are about 50 communities which consider themselves to be Arbëreshë. 

The dialects spoken in Italy form a branch of Tosk, and are similar to those spoken by Albanians in Epirus, and by the Arvanitiki.

The costumes, which vary from village to village, and which have not been preserved in all, are derived mainly from old Italian costume, as most of them do not resemble those found in Albania at all. As Italians have mostly stopped wearing their traditional costumes, it is difficult to say how much the Arbëreshë costumes differ. Only the women have preserved these costumes, when men or boys wish to dress in costume, they borrow a form from Albania. 

Although the costumes vary from village to village, they do form coherent groups, and I will present each of these groups. Each village, of course, has at least two names, I will list the Arbëreshë name first, followed by the Italian name. Often the name in the local Italian dialect is different from that in standard Italian

Spixan or Spezzano

This costume region lies in the Province of Cosenza, Paese of Calabria near the Sila National Park. It includes the town of Spixan or Spezzano Albanese itself, and also 5 villages which lie to the south in a line from Shën Sofia e Epirit, (Santa Sofia d'Epiro) east to  Mbuzati, (San Giorgio Albanese). These also include Shën Mitri or San Demetrio Corone, Strigàri or San Cosmo Albanese, and Vakarici or Vaccarizzo Albanese. The following maps should help with location. 

The image at the head of this article shows this costume on the right, and that from the Piani Albanesi in Sicily on the left. I will first describe the gala costume worn for weddings and great occasions, which is called llambadhor. 

Here is a museum exhibit of the various pieces of this outfit. Refer to this when reading about the various pieces below. 

The base garment is a sleeveless shift, petin. this supports and covers the bust, with lace and embroidery at the top in front, it is also rather long. I believe that it buttons in back.
Over this is worn a chemise of linen or cotton, called ljinja ne mbërlleta, literally 'linen with lace'. It is a long garment with long sleeves and a deep cut V neckline, which is edged with very wide gathered lace. The top of the petin is visible at the bottom of the very deep V neckline. 

Over this are worn cotton or linen petticoats, sutanini i bardhë, with or without shoulder straps. 

Over the petticoat is worn the first skirt, sutana e kuqe me ghaljun, which is finely pleated, of some shade of red or fuchsia, with wide gold galloon ornamenting the hem. 

Over this is worn another skirt which is similar, except for being a rich green, blue or violet, the coha llambador. This skirt usually has slits at the waist on either side, kusheljet, which are also edged with gold galloon. 

This skirts are very full, traditionally '7 meters and a hand', and heavy, and are held up by shoulder straps, mushqit, in matching colors. 

At the waist is a small, gold embroidered ornament called palandrelja, which is secured by straps attached at the waist through the pocket holes. This may possibly be a vestigial apron.

It is very common to see girls posing with the top skirt lifted so as to show the underskirt.

Sometimes the top skirt is pinned up to show the underskirt. This is common in S. Cosmo and Vaccarizzo. 

In S Giorgio and Vaccarizzo, sometimes an apron takes the place of the top skirt. This is often of silk and richly embroidered. This is considered to be a less formal version. When an apron is worn, the palandrelja is not. 

A short jacket, xhipuni, is worn with the gala costume. This does not close in front, and usually does not reach the waist. It is ornamented with gold galloon on the wrists and the back. The sleeves are often richly embroidered in gold. The jacket often matches the overskirt, and thus is usually green, blue or violet. It may occasionally be black. In the case where an apron is worn instead of the overskirt, it may be red. See the various photos in this article. 

The hair is put up into a bun and a bun cover, keza, is worn over it. For girls and younger women, the hair may be elaborately braided with ribbons. Rich jewelry is worn with this outfit, shoes may be of black leather with white stockings, or may be made of a color that matches the overskirt with sparkling embroidery, as we see in this image above. 
A shawl or scarf, pani, may be worn over the head or around the shoulders, especially in church. This may be silk with gold galloon, or of gold or other openwork. 

The 'half festive' costume resembles this one, but with less elaborately ornamented materials. The overskirt is often not worn, and when it is, it is of a plain color, the underskirt is either red, or red with a deep green border. The jacket is black, and an apron is worn. A petticoat is still worn, and the chemise is similar, but without the elaborate lace. The petin is still worn under it. In this first image, the festive costume is on the left, and the everyday is on the right.

The everyday costume again has the same pieces, but are made of much cheaper everyday cloth, often cotton prints. 

Widows, and those in mourning, tend to wear all black or dark blue. 

I will close with a few more images of this costume. 

S Demetrio

Here we see a boy, likely a member of a local folkloric group, dressed in a generic Gheg outfit.

S Cosmo

S Giorgio

Here we have a man dressed in a rather generic Tosk costume. The foustanella is rather short, looking more Greek. 

Santa Sofia


Here is a video of a festival in Vaccarizzo, The costumes worn in the video are of this region, but the costumes displayed on mannequins are from various Arbëreshë and Albanian regions


Here we see another man in what looks like a homemade Tosk costume.

Here we see a man and a boy in Gheg costume.

 Here we see a man in what is possibly a reconstruction of men's clothing of the 1800s, complete with the iconic white felt cap of the Albanian male. 

A video of a wedding in S Cosmo Albanese. At the 12:47 mark you see the bride being dressed.

Thank you for reading. I hope that you have found this to be interesting and informative. 

Roman K


Source Material:
'Ori e Costume degli Albanesi', Italo Elmo et al, Castrovillari, 1996
'Spirito Regale nei Costumi della Donna Arbereshe', L. Conti et al, Castrovillari, 1988
'Il Merletto nel Folklore Italiano', Doretta Davanzo Poli et al, Burano,  1990