Arbresh Museum

A small Louvre of the Arbëreshe civilization
This is how we like to define the Arbëresh Ethnic Museum, a precious treasure chest of the long and sometimes troubled history of a people that is still able to fascinate.
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The Stages Of The Birth Of The Arbresh Museum

Housed in an ancient palace of Civita, which once was the municipal seat, it contains images, objects and documents that tell the tale of a culture that mixes elements of the Albanian motherland with others of the territories where it grew up. The result is a surprising journey into a world that is more than six centuries old, just waiting to be discovered and appreciated.

The idea of the Ethnic Museum in Civita was part of the founding program of the Cultural Association “Gennaro Placco”. A first nucleus of the museum was created and organized in an embryonic state thanks to the help of the pupils of the community’s compulsory school during the 1970s and 1980s. In the following years the idea-project has developed, identifying the funds of the European Union.
The Ethnic Museum was officially established by the cultural association “Gennaro Placco”, with the support of the European Union,of the Provincial Administration,of the School District, of the Mountain Community of Pollino and finally, of the Municipality of Civita. The inauguration of the Museum took place on 25th May 1989 and represented the first iconographic testimony structure in the Arberia. In its first five years of life it was housed in the “Zuccaro” house, a building in the historical centre of the village.
The Museum was transferred to the building of the former town hall of Civita and renovated thanks to regional funding provided by the “Pim-Cultura” plan. Since then the Arbresh Ethnic Museum works for the recovery and preservation of the memory, not only of the arbëresh culture, but also of the naturalistic heritage of the whole territorial context of the Pollino National Park.

The Different Rooms Of The Museum

The exhibition and research path of the ethnic museum consists of 4 rooms and some special sections.

The reception hall

On the ground floor, which is also home to the editorial office of the magazine Katundi Ynë, the visitor is welcomed by the volunteers of the Association and introduced to the knowledge of the arbresh world. In this room there is a specialized library, the first numbers of the magazine, a panel illustrating the different arbresh settlements in southern Italy and the visitors’ register that collects perceptions and signatures of visitors estimated at 20 thousand per year. From this room we proceed to visit the rooms on the upper floor of the building.

The hall of costumes and vallja

“The gala costume is made of precious fabrics as satin, brocade, silk and gold, in a harmonious combination of colours and precious embroidery, and it testifies the prosperity of Albania when the exiles abandoned it.”
Ernest Koliqi

In this room there are different types of women’s clothing on display; the everyday outfit, the “half-party” one and a wedding dress that can be admired when women wear it during the Vallje, a historical event that is celebrated on the Tuesday after Easter, to commemorate the victories of the Albanian hero Giorgio Castriota Skanderbeg against the invasion of the Ottoman Turkish Empire.
Different icons that represent the most typical expression of the Greek Byzantine liturgical tradition are the last element of the exhibition. In the arbereshe culture the churches with their liturgical furnishings and the scent of incense manifest the triumph of the spirit over matter.
The rooms are complemented by descriptive panels on the Vallje, the typical dances of Easter Tuesday, the liturgical functions of the Greek Byzantine rite and the furnishings of the Church of S. Maria Assunta, the social and urban characteristics of Civita, the gjitonìa (the neighbourhood), the characteristic chimneys and the anthropomorphic houses called “Case Kodra”, dedicated to the post-Cubist Italian Albanian artist Ibrahim Kodra and the historical figures of Civita.

The hall of civilization and peasant work

The first floor of the museum consists of 3 connected rooms, and the path through it exhibits and illustrates the salient features of the arbëreshe community. The room is filled with an ancient loom and various tools such as the spinning wheel, the bindolo, the wheeled stems and the spindle, which symbolize the domestic weaving workshop. Three vividly coloured square blankets called “kukule” (read kukuglie) are the product of authentic masterpieces by the arbëreshe woman who responded both to the needs of her family and to any external demand.
This is followed by the symbolic exhibition of some traditional objects of the agro-pastoral world: typical milk containers, rush baskets for cheese and ricotta, wolf collar and handmade wooden ladles. As a corollary, a picture gallery exhibits paintings depicting aspects of the rural world, the arbresh village and the colours of Arberia. The room also hosts objects of the art of carpentry and ironworking that remind us of the small furniture industry and the several ironworking workshops. The forges used to produce tools for donkeys and typical railings of balconies.Several keys for doors and entrance gates are on display, locks of various sizes and numerous irons for the donkey’s hoofs. In this room a wall screen shows historical and current photos of the Civitese community.

The room of the environment and history

It is the central hall, filled with 2 wrought iron totems in which the Legend of Skanderbeg and the History of the Devil’s Bridge are displayed to commemorate the epilogue of its collapse and reconstruction. In this room you can watch videos on the landscape features of the Pollino and a documentary on Civita.
On display in this room there also are objects for the preservation of oil and for baking and such as cupboards, shovels for bread and for focaccia and various sieves. There are also tools for cutting wood and for transporting donkeys.
Videos and photos that can be viewed on digital screens deepen the knowledge of the intangible heritage and landscape of the territory.

Themes of the museum

The Arbëreshë

They are the descendants of the Albanians who, after the death of Skanderbeg in 1468, settled in southern Italy to escape the Ottoman Turkish domination that conquered the Balkans and Albania.


Civita is one of the Italian-Albanian settlements in Calabria. It was founded between 1470 and 1480, by Albanian families from Epirus who were led by the Greek Count Giorgio Paleologo Assan, who left their homeland after the attacks of the Turkish Empire, repopulating the pre-existing “Castrum Sancti Salvatoris” which was previously destroyed by a violent earthquake in the middle of the 15th century.
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The Vallje

The Vallje are traditional ethno-choral dances, performed with choral chants (vjershë), evoking the victories of the national hero George Kastriota Skanderbeg against the Turks. They take place on the Tuesday after Easter; on this occasion the women wear the valuable traditional arbrësh costume.

The Pollino National Park

The largest protected area in Italy and a kingdom of wilderness with an area of about 200 thousand hectares spreading in Calabria and Basilicata. It is also the most anthropized park in Italy with 32 municipalities on the Calabrian side and 24 on the Lucanian side, including 11 Italian-Albanian municipalities in Calabria and 5 in Basilicata.

The Gjitonia

Gjitoni më se gjiri – “The neighbor is more intimate than a relative.”
The gjitonia, “the neighbourhood”, represents a central element for the life of the arbrësh community. The gjitonia is also an intangible heritage for the transmission of knowledge, and it establishes relationships of reciprocity and solidarity, establishing a relationship of trust between neighbours. It represents the fulcrum of sociality. Unlike wards, “gjitonia” are small clusters of houses often attached to each other (often understood as the smallest portion of urban fabric).

Kodra Houses

The Kodra Houses are anthropomorphic houses discovered in recent times and dedicated to the Albanian post-Cubist painter Ibrahim Kodra, defined “the primitive of a new civilization”. Kondra came to Italy from the court of King Zogu in 1939 and he moved to Milan where he came into contact with the artistic life of the post-Cubist movement. In 1997 Ibrahim Kodra visited Civita and the Arbëreshë countries, dedicating it the collection “Albania Fantastic”.

The chimneys

Another element that stands out are the chimney pots (çiminerja) characterized by original or geometric shapes, which interprets apotropaic values. They represent a sort of totem against evil spirits, protectors of the house and family property, the result of artistic inspiration, but also functional with respect to the technical requirements of good draught and contrast to the winds coming from the heights of Pollino and the Ionian coast.

The rural and artisan world

There are very few examples of a typical Albanian footprint in the labour world today, most of the original traces are preserved in the field of sheep-farming, in the phases of this work, and a set of anecdotes, tales, stories, songs, historical testimonies related to it that are still expressed in the Arbëreshe language.
Female handicraft is the second activity after agriculture practiced by the Arbereshe since they landed in Italy over 500 years ago. The rural handicraft, especially the feminine one, belongs to a very ancient tradition. This activity was not considered a peasant activity because in every house, even those owned by professionals, you could find a loom. A tradition that still lives on today, but in a very reduced form, is that of crochet and embroidery.
L’artigianato femminile è la seconda attività dopo l’agricoltura praticata dalle popolazioni che 500 anni fa sbarcarono sulle nostre coste. L’artigianato rurale specie quello femminile appartiene ad una tradizione antichissima. Questa attività non era considerata un’attività contadina perché anche nelle case dei professionisti c’era il telaio. Una tradizione che vive ancora oggi, ma in forma molto ridotta, è quella dell’arte dell’uncinetto e del ricamo.

Contact us

Do you want to visit the museum? Do you want more information about it? Don’t hesitate, contact us!


You can find us at the Museo Etnico Arbersh – P.zza Municipio 87010 Civita (CS)

Opening hours and entrance

The museum is open every day from 5 PM to 7.45 PM. Free entry.