Italy’s EURO2024 clash with Albania poses a tricky dilemma for one small town… but why?

When EURO2024 rolls around next weekend, fans will be fixated on the action in Germany. Group B, widely referred to as the customary ‘Group of Death’ at this year’s tournament will see Italy take on Croatia, Spain and Albania in a desperate bid to retain their European crown.

On paper, that clash with Spain looks to be the most appealing. Croatia can certainly hold their own too as Luka Modrić aims for one last dance on the international stage, but it is the Azzurri’s first clash – against Albania – that poses a dilemma for one small town in the south of the Italian peninsula.

Piana degli Albanesi sits in the north of Sicilia and is home to just over 6,000 inhabitants. What makes this little commune on Italy’s quaint island so special, and why will it be so severely impacted by Italy’s match against the Group B underdogs?

The majority of the 6,000 residents don’t call Piana degli Albanesi by its official name. Instead, it is Hora e Arbëreshëvet – sometimes shortened to just Hora. If you’re thinking that that doesn’t look like a particularly Italian place name, you’d be correct. It’s Albanian, literally translating into English as ’the City of the Albanians.’

So how far do they take it? Does Hora just happen to be the lakeside home for thousands of Albanians, or are there deep-lying cultural ties between the town and the country of the not-so-famous red and blacks?

Embed from Getty Images

Six centuries ago, at the height of the Ottoman Empire, Hora became home to those fleeing the Balkans following the death of Skanderbeg – a military commander who successfully defended the country for more than two decades.

Their path to modern-day Hora was a treacherous one, fleeing via the Adriatic Coast before settling in Sicilia and eventually being granted the rights to the land that initially became known as Piana dei Greci – or the Plain of the Greeks. That was only amended to represent the true Albanian heritage of the population in 1941, with fascist dictator Benito Mussolini desperate to gain the locals’ support for his imperialistic ideology.

Despite being just ten kilometres from the coastal city of Palermo, the town is separated from the majority of Sicilia by a mountainous range – and so even now, Hora remains fiercely proud of the local heritage and is easily distinguishable from the remainder of the island on which it lies.

Road signs within the town are bilingual, and the town feels Albanian. The regional dialect, Arbëresh, is still widely spoken today, and Albanian customs live on – as do the Orthodox Christian views of the initial settlers.

But of course, Piana dei Albanesi is Italian, by geography alone if nothing else. The local government recognise Arbëresh as an official language and the town is legally recognised as bilingual – but naturally, Italian is also widely spoken and used as the primary language in schools.

And so, when June 15 rolls around and Albania go head-to-head with Italy in Dortmund, the thousands that call Piana degli Albanesi home will be left with a decision to make: will they be screaming ‘hajde shqiperi’ or ‘forza Italia’?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *