Without a doubt, one of the most colourful and joyful spectacles in Sicily takes place on Easter Sunday in Piana degli Albanesi.
Ethnically and linguistically of Albanian origin and identifying themselves as Arbëreshë, the people of Piana degli Albanesi migrated to Sicily in the fifteenth century under the threat of the Turks. They were granted a patch of land, hidden away in the mountains, by the bishop of Monreale, and it was there that they founded their town which was first known as Piana dei Greci (Πιάνα των ρωμαίων) or “Plain of the Greeks”, in reference to their Orthodox religion. Successive migrations from Albania followed and today, throughout Southern Italy there are some 50 Albanian towns and communities who share this common history – mostly in Calabria and Basilicata.
The first clue that the visitor has to their unique culture is that the road signs throughout the town are in both Italian and Arbëreshë, however, this is only to scratch the surface. The people of Piana have maintained their unique and fascinating traditions throughout the centuries – as a visit to the museum will testify. In the museum there is a fascinating collection of costumes as well as an interesting assortment of folklore memorabilia and even a small display of local dried flowers.
In there churches too, one quickly gets a sense of uniqueness. Many of there churches are filled with valuable icons and the visitor quickly picks up the reverence for Saint George. Another source of fascination for students of Sicilian art history are the many works of Pietro Novelli throughout the town. Novelli was a seventeenth century painter from the nearby town of Monreale who worked prolifically in Western Sicily, but his works in Piana are distinctly different from his works the visitor will find in Palermo.
It is at Easter though that the town of Piana degli Albanesi comes alive. After mass on easter Sunday, the main street in the town is host to one of the most colourful processions in Sicily. Girls and young men parade up the street in traditional costumes to the accompaniment of children playing the accordion in an atmosphere of joy and happiness.