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Sunday, 9 March 2014


Statue of Skanderbeg near Bayswater in London


Between 1385 - when the Turks beat the Albanians at the Battle of Savra near modern day Lushnjë - and 1912, Albania was part of the Ottoman Empire. The Albanians did not take their defeat sitting down. They offered much resistance, the best example being that offered in the 15th century by the Albanian hero  Gjergj Kastrioti Skënderbeu (1405-1468), better known to English speakers as ‘Skanderbeg’. Despite the brave attempts of the Albanians to rid themselves of the Turks, Ottoman rule was established firmly. Many Albanians fled the country and started new lives abroad, often in places that are now part of modern Italy.
This excerpt from a work in progress by Adam Yamey reveals his up until now brief experience of the Albanian community that fled from the Ottomans invading their country to Italy. The illustrations are all harvested from the Internet with one excep[tion, and their sources are given, as well as gratitude to those who posted them.

Skanderbeg's stronghold at Kruja in Albania (1984)

(Author's photograph)

Excerpt from a work in progress by Adam Yamey:

“The small Bar Redentore was just across the Academia Bridge that straddles the Grand Canal. I am not sure why my parents favoured this amongst all of the many bars in the city, but they did. They drank good quality espresso coffees whilst we children enjoyed munching tasty tosti. These are toasted sandwiches often containing prosciutto crudo and slices of cheese. The Italians make these better than almost anyone else. The sandwiches are not squashed in a heavy grill but instead are gently suspended between the heating elements of a toaster. The result is a much lighter tasting sandwich than those prepared in the heavier grill that compresses them as it cooks. We never sat down in Italian bars, be it in Venice or elsewhere. Even if the bar man offered to seat us, my mother refused. She knew that there was a hefty surcharge for sitting down in a bar or café.

More than 35 years after my last visit to Venice with my parents, we visited the city with our then 10 year old daughter, who had seen pictures of the place in a magazine and was longing to visit it. Prior to arranging the visit, she was learning how to swim. We told her that once she had learnt, we would take her to Venice. This inducement worked, and we re-visited the holiday place of my childhood. During the visit I was surprised to discover that many of the shops and other businesses that we had visited in the ‘60s and ‘70s were still operating in 2005. These included a small shop selling decorative paper items made in Florence as well as the Bar Redentore, where we also stopped for a drink.

We used to reach the Redentore by walking across the Campo San Stefano, where we sometimes sat down during the afternoon, and then passing along a narrow alley, which contained a building that has long intrigued me. It was the Scuola degli Albanese. This building whose façade, which is almost impossible to photograph properly on account of the narrowness of the alley, is covered with carved stone bas-reliefs. 

The facade of the Scuola degli Albanese in Venice


By the time that I had reached my early teens, I had developed a great interest in the then very mysterious country of Albania. Anything connected with that place, which was then almost inaccessible to anyone from the world around it, was of great fascination to me. We used to stop and look at this building, wondering what it had to do about Albania, but I never found out … until recently.

Detail of facade of Scuola degli Albanese in Venice 
- a Turk contemplating the Fortress of Shkodër in Albania


In February 2014, I was attending a reception at the Albanian Embassy in London when I met the great scholar of Albanian matters, Bejtullah Destani. This highly approachable friendly man began talking to me. As we chatted, I suddenly remembered the Scuola degli Albanese and asked him about it. If anyone knew anything about it, it had to be him. And, I was right, but I was not prepared for his reaction. He looked surprised that I knew of its existence. He said that he believed that of the 40 or so people assembled at the reception, many of them Albanian and the others having a great interest in Albania, I was probably the only person there who had ever heard of, or even noticed, this building.

Destani told me that when the Turks invaded Albania in the 15th century, many Albanians fled the country. Some went to southern Italy and others to Venice. He explained that the Scuola degli Albanese was the headquarters of the Albanian confraternity in Venice. The Albanian community in Venice was extremely prosperous, and well able to hire the fashionable painter Vittorio Carpaccio to paint a series of canvases to decorate the main hall of the Scuola between 1504 and 1508. These paintings, which still exist, are no longer in the building, which has long since ceased to serve its original function; they are scattered amongst museums all over Italy. This contrasts with the set of Carpaccio’s paintings that are still in situ in the Scuola degli Schiavoni not far from St Mark’s Square. We used to visit those beautiful pictures lining the walls of a dimly lit room almost every time we visited Venice.

One of the pictures by Carpaccio that used to hang in the Scuola degli Albanese: now
in a museum in Bergamo.


Mr Destani also told me that when the Scuola degli Albanesi ceased to function as a confraternity, the entire records of the Albanian community in Venice, spanning several centuries, were transferred to the Archives of the City of Venice, where they are awaiting scholarly examination.

Santa Maria del Giglio in Venice


Close to the Scuola degli Albanese, but nearer to St Marks Square, there was a church that interested me because of my interest in the Balkans. It was Santa Maria del Giglio (known by the Venetians as 'Santa Maria Zobenigo'). At the base of its florid neo-classical façade there were a number of maps carved in bas-relief. At least two of these were of places on the Dalmatian coast, namely Split and Zadar (or 'Zara', in Italian). There was another one depicting ‘Candia’, now known as Heraklion on Crete. These maps interested me. The rest of the façade interested my parents.

Map of Zara (Zadar) on facade of S. Maria del Giglio in Venice



See also:

Adam Yamey visited Albania in 1984. His memories of this 

extraordinary journey are published in his book/ e-book


This is available from Amazon, Barnes&Noble, and Bookdepository, and also www.lulu.com

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