In 1466 Sultan Mehmed 11 personally led a force of 200,000 to besiege Kruje but could not take it. The following year he was back again, and again Skanderbeg's forces resisted successfully. But the Albanians suffered a severe blow in 1468 when Skanderbeg contracted a fever and died, a hero mourned by his whole nation and much of the Christian world. Although resistance continued under his son, John, the Turks took Kruje in 1478 and by 1501 had completed the conquest of all Albania.
The memory of Skanderbeg lives on not only in Albania but in the Albanian
-Italian villages of Italy. in Maschito a street is named for him. In Rome
he is memorialized with an equestrian statue, an honor granted only to
great military heroes, in the Piazza Albania.
The Migrations of Albanians to Italy
Albanians came to Italy in three migrations.
In 1448, the Alphonse 1, King of Naples, taking advantage of the alliance he had concluded with Skanderbeg, called on the Albanians for help in suppressing a revolt in one of the towns of his kingdom. Skanderbeg complied and the force he sent successfully put down the revolt. Afterwards the Albanians, mindful of Turkish pressure on their homeland, appealed to the king for permission to stay in Italy. Their petition being granted, the Albanians proceeded to settle 12 villages. Thus the first migration was made up of troops who stayed. History is not clear whether these soldiers sent for their families or took wives among the local Italians. Nevertheless, they were in Italy to stay, and the following year settled four more villages, this time in Sicily.
History repeated itself about 10 years later when King Ferdinand, who
had succeeded his father Alphonse on the throne of Naples, requested the
help of Skanderbeg in suppressing another revolt. Skanderbeg sent 5,000
Albanians who crushed the rebellion in two decisive battles. Like their
predecessors, these soldiers also wished to stay in Italy, and for their
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services Ferdinand granted them land near the city of Taranto in Apulia. Here they settled 15 villages in the rolling landscape east of Taranto.
The third migration occurred over a period of years between the time of Skanderbeg's death in 1468 and the fall of Kruje in 1478. By the time the Turks had completed their conquest of Albania in 1501 many of the people had fled, some evacuated by Venetian ships, others heading south to Greece, and the rest to southern Italy.
The history of the Albanians in Italy is not detailed. In the early accounts of the founding of the Albanian settlements during the first two migrations there are figures given for the number of soldiers who came but no other estimates. Did their families come later, swelling their numbers? We don't know. Nor are there figures for the third migration, which probably was the largest. Did many of the Albanians return to their native land when it became clear that the Turks had taken over permanently? Again, we don't know.
The population of the villages in those early years is also unknown. Within the regions of Calabria, Basilicata, and Apulia on the mainland and the island of Sicily there were probably 70 or 80 Albanian villages. Today these villages range in population from 200 to 2,000. If one assumes that the average population per village in the 15th century was 500, then the total would have been 35,000 to 40,000. While this is a rough estimate, it is indicative that the original settlers arrived in sufficient numbers to perpetuate their identity, which they have in some respects done to the present day.
But not all the Albanian villages have retained their cultural characteristics.
Many of the villages known to have been of Albanian origin now retain only
slight traces of their heritage. Some of these do not even acknowledge
their background until prodded by curious offspring or tourists.
The Migration of Albanian-Italians to America
Although there have been Italians in the United States since Revolutionary
times, the main emigrations took place in two waves. The first followed
unsuccessful attempts at Italian reunification in 1848 and consisted mainly
of political refugees from the north. The second, which
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lasted from about 1880 to 1920, consisted mostly of economic refugees fleeing the poverty of the south and looking for a better life. As a consequence of Italy's reunification in 1861 and the final extinction of foreign rule, these southerners, some of whom were Albanian -Italians, had high hopes for emancipation from their almost feudal existence but were bitterly disappointed. They soon learned they had merely replaced one set of oppressors for another. Now, instead of Spanish rule, they were in effect ruled by Piedmontese from the north. This was the final straw, and the ties that bound them to Italy were broken.
Many of the Albanian- Italians who emigrated to the United States came to California, especially to the Fresno area, usually after getting on their feet in New York. Frequently the men left first leaving their mostly young wives behind. These were the "white widows" of the Italian south what we would today call "single parents," though the condition was temporary - dependent on whatever money their husbands could send, living in a poor land without the support of a man, causing a certain amount of social tension because of their man-less status, raising their children as best they could, and waiting expectantly for the letter from America that would tell them that now was the time to come, ticket or fare enclosed.
As I write this I am looking at a wonderful old photograph of one such "white widow" and her two children. The woman is young, slim, exceptionally handsome with piercing blue eyes and hair taken back in a severe bun. Her face has more than good looks - it has strength and character. The woman in the picture is my mother, Maria Joanna, who died in 1977, my brother, Anthony (born Antonio), and my sister, Elizabeth (born Elizabetta). The photo was taken in 1903 or 1904 in Venosa, a town of some size about five miles from Maschito, probably because there was no photographer in Maschito. My father, Giuseppe, had emigrated to New York a few years earlier and my mother, like the other "white widows," was awaiting her own journey to a strange new world.
In America the immigrants, thrifty and hard working, sloughed off the
poverty of the Mezzogiorno and soon basked in the relative affluence of
their new home - a classic case of a group of people pulling themselves
up by their bootstraps. They received no government stipends, no "English-as-a
second language" programs, no multi-lingual ballots, no welfare payments.
If they received any help at all it was from their fellow
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