Tuesday, July 2, 2024


The Italians in the brasilian metropolis of Sao Paulo/San Paolo.

All of us know that the city with the most italians in the world is not Roma (the capital of Italy) but Sao Paulo in Brasil. In the metropolitan area of Roma there are nearly 3 million Italians, but in the one of San Paolo (as is called in Italian) there are nearly 6 millions (the double). Of course only one million are italians born in Italy or Italo-brasilians with the Italian passport, but they are more than half the actual population of this huge brasilian city (that has nearly 11 million inhabitants). These Italians of San Paolo are in many cases the descendants of one of the biggest emigrations in History: the Italian diaspora of the last two centuries.

The skyscraper "Italia" in downtown Sao Paulo, built by the Italian community of San Paolo in the 1960s (when was the tallest in south America, with nearly 170 meters of altitude and 50 floors)
In 1877 the great migratory movement of the Italians has not yet begun, but the presence of Italians in São Paulo was already significant: there were at least 2 thousands of them (the first small group -from northern Italy- settled in the area during colonial times under Portugal). Ten years later, in 1887, there were 27,323 Italians in the city and the following year the wave of migration was overwhelming: there were 80,749 Italians and they occupied in equal numbers the city and the state of the same name. In 1890 there were 24 thousand Italians in the city alone: one third of the inhabitants.

In 1916 the Italians were 187,540, or 37% of the city population of nearly 400,000 inhabitants, according to official census.

After some years working in coffee plantations, many Italian immigrants earned enough money to buy their own land and become farmers themselves. But most of them left the rural areas and moved to cities, mainly São Paulo. A very few became very rich in the process and attracted more Italian immigrants. In the early 20th century, São Paulo became known as the "City of the Italians", because 31% of its inhabitants were of Italian nationality in 1900. Indeed the city of São Paulo had the second-highest population of people with Italian ancestry in the world at this time beginning the xx century, after only Rome. In 1901, 90% of industrial workers and 80% of construction workers in São Paulo were Italians. Most of them participated actively in the industrialization of Brazil in the early 20th century. Others became investors, bankers and industrialists, such as Count Matarazzo, whose family became the richest industrialists in São Paulo by holding the property of more than 200 industries and businesses (in Rio Grande do Sul, actually 42% of the industrial companies have Italians roots and in the San Paolo State the percentage is similar but a bit less).

Italians and their descendants were also quick to organize themselves and establish mutual aid societies (such as the "Circolo Italiano"), hospitals, schools (such as the "Istituto Colégio Dante Alighieri", in São Paulo), labor unions, newspapers as "Il Piccolo" and "Fanfulla" (for the whole city of São Paulo), magazines, radio stations and association football teams such as: "Clube Atlético Votorantim", the old Sport "Club Savóia", Clube "Atlético Juventus" of Italians Brazilians from Mooca (old worker quarter inside the city of São Paulo), "Esporte Clube Juventude" and the great clubs (which had the same name) "Palestra Italia", later renamed to "Sociedade Esportiva Palmeiras" in São Paulo.

In 1920, nearly 80% of São Paulo city's population was composed of immigrants and their descendants and Italians made up over half of its male population. In 1900, a columnist who was absent from São Paulo for 20 years wrote "then São Paulo used to be a genuine brasilian city, today it is an Italian city." Furthermore, after WW1 the Governor of São Paulo said that "if the owner of each house in São Paulo display the flag of the country of origin on the roof, from above São Paulo would look like an Italian city".

It is noteworthy o pinpoint that Sao Paulo served as the adoptive home of 56% of the Italian immigrants who arrived in Brazil between 1886 and 1934 (the last year of huge emigration from Italy before WW2).

For reasons of practicality, Italian immigrants tended to settle in the urban neighborhoods of Sao Paulo with other Italians of similar regional origins. Literary scholar Mario Carelli (in 1985) affirmed that familial relationships and kinship ties led Neapolitans to Bras, Calabrians to Bixiga (previously known as "Bexiga," or "bladder," in Portuguese), and Venetians to Bom Retiro. Carelli also notes that these neighborhoods, as well as Barra Funda and Belenzinho, were positioned in the valleys of the Tiete and Tamanduatei rivers and within easy access of Sao Paulo's railways (for going to work). The area in which the Italian immigrants settled constituted the "cidade baixa," or the working-class ghettos of the city. The neighborhoods, particularly Bixiga, boasted affordable rent and property values, although the living conditions were precarious initially in the first half of the XX century.

Indeed in 1920 in San Paolo there were 1,446 companies and industries in the hands of italians enriched, who gave work to more than 9,000 "poor" italians emigrants.

Italian emigrants in the ''Hospedaria dos Imigrantes'' (Immigrants Hospital), in 1895 São Paulo.
Historian Angelo Trento (in 1989) affirmed that there were as many as 170 Italian-language newspapers circulating throughout the state of Sao Paulo. Of those, Trento attested that the vast majority of the publications, from 140 to 150, were published by and directed towards Italians residing in the State's urban capital.

Furthermore, Italian language & dialects have influenced the Portuguese spoken in some areas of Brazil like the State of Sao Paulo. Italian was so widespread in São Paulo city that the Portuguese traveler Sousa Pinto said that he could not speak with cart drivers in Portuguese because they all spoke Italian dialects and gesticulated as Neapolitans.

The Italian influence on Portuguese spoken in São Paulo is no longer as great as before, but the accent of the city's inhabitants still has some traces of the Italian accents common in the beginning of the 20th century like the intonation and such expressions as "Belo", "Ma vá!", "Orra meu!" and "Tá entendendo?". Other characteristic is the difficulty to speak Portuguese in plural, saying plural words as they were singulars like in the italian language. The lexical influence of Italian on Brazilian Portuguese, however, has remained quite small.

The Italian influence in Brazil affects also music with traditional Italian songs and the merging with other Brazilians music styles. One of the main results of the fusion is "Samba paulista", a samba with strong Italians influence, that has a Brazilian rhythm and theme but (mostly) Italian lyrics. Indeed Samba paulista was created by Adoniran Barbosa (born João/Giuseppe Rubinato), the son of Italians immigrants. His songs translated the life of the Italian neighborhoods in São Paulo and merged São Paulo dialect with samba, which latter made him known as the "people's poet."

There is no doubt that Italian Fascism in Sao Paulo was a remarkable movement in the 1930s, with thousands of members and followers, but it disappeared after WW2. However in San Paolo in the late 1930s and until 1942 all the newspapers in italian were controlled by the italo-brasilian fascists (please read in italian: https://web.archive.org/web/20121116054510/http://www.asei.eu/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=178:gli-italiani-in-brasile-vid-parte&catid=65:articoli&Itemid=250)

Actually 45% of the Italians in San Paolo came from Northern Italy, 34% from Central Italy regions, and only 21% from Southern Italy. Brazil (and San Paolo, of course) is the only American country with a large Italian community in which Southern Italian immigrants are a minority. The italian regions from where they mainly came are Veneto and Friuli/Trentino, followed by Campania and Lombardy.

An italian-brasilian family (the Rizzoli) in 2012
The following are translated excepts from the book "Gli Italiani in Brasile" of Matteo Sanfilippo (published in 2009):

After the Second World War, Italian emigration to Brazil once again recorded a significant positive balance. In 1946 emigration amounted to just 603 units (against 97 repatriations), but already the following year it exceeded 4,000 (against 1,142 repatriations) and in 1951 9,000 (against just over 2,000 repatriations). In the meantime, the dispute between Italy and Brazil over assets seized from Italian citizens during the war has been resolved and the agreement ratified in Rio de Janeiro on 8 September 1949 provided for the establishment of a mixed colonization and immigration company, financed by Italy also using the capital newly released in Brazil. In 1952-1954, 17,026, 14,328 and 12,949 emigrants left the Peninsula respectively, while adding the data for the three years, the overall repatriations did not exceed 10,000 units. The movement of departures began to decline in 1955 (8,523 emigrants against 2,592 returns), but remained above 1,000 units until 1962, when, however, the returns were 1,477. During the remaining sixties the migratory balance was always negative and departures from Italy were less than a thousand. This figure was exceeded again only in the mid-1970s, when net migration briefly became active again.

After the Second World War, Brazil was the third Latin American pole of attraction, preceded by Argentina and Venezuela, for Italian emigrants. However, the Italian-Brazilian community was unable to really increase its numbers. From the 1950 census there were 44,678 naturalized Italians and 197,659 immigrants with an Italian passport. Three-quarters of this presence was concentrated in the state of São Paulo, the remaining quarter was divided between the federal district, Rio Grande do Sul, Minas Gerais and Paraná. Ten years later the percentage was more or less the same, even if the age of the population of Italian origin had decreased slightly, although the over-fifties still predominated.

In fact, the new wave of immigration did not achieve great results, also because the attempt to restart agricultural colonization failed. The disorganization of the Brazilian state and the harshness of living conditions on the farms or on the border prevented any effort from being successful. The only immigration flows that therefore worked were those linked to the industrial and commercial sectors and to the reunification of family units. However, the migratory experience was much less lucrative than in the past and returns to Italy were numerous.

Divisions within the community also played a role in this failure, which obviously did not exclude cases of individual success. To the now gangrenous conflicts between anti-fascists and fascists (these were among other things strengthened by the many who abandoned Italy as soon as the war ended to avoid retaliations and sought a new homeland in Latin America) were added those between the new and the old emigrants. The former did not believe in the values of the latter and above all they emigrated to make a quick fortune, therefore they had no intention of giving in to employment blackmail and wanted to immediately obtain the best possible working conditions. Furthermore, they did not join the associations of the old, considered leftovers from a now vanished era, especially those of a more parochial nature. In exchange, the old welfare associations did not care about those who have just arrived and in many cases even refused to help them. The only moments of cohesion between old and new, but not without contrasts, were linked to humanitarian initiatives in favor of Italy, such as the collection of funds for the victims of the flood in the Polesine.

On the other hand, the integration of new arrivals into Brazil was hindered not only by economic difficulties, because after all the country, even in its worst moments, was still considered to have great potential and therefore immigrants were not frightened by the recurring crises, but also and above all from the political one. In 1950 Vargas was re-elected president and launched a series of development plans, which, however, did not take off. Four years later he committed suicide, opening a new period of great confusion. In August 1961, for example, Janio Quadros, elected not even a year earlier, resigned, declaring that the forces of reaction prevented him from intervening in any important decisions. Finally, in 1964 the armed forces deposed President João Goulart (formerly Quadros' deputy), accusing him of sympathizing with the communists, and opened a true dictatorial phase.

The Brazilian political upheavals and the type of brutal development imposed on the country by multinationals with American and European capital or by a capitalist class with very little social sensitivity have certainly influenced the nature of Italian immigration. In the sixties, farmers no longer arrived looking for land, but from that decade the Italians moving to Brasil were mostly artisans and specialized workers and in some cases graduated individuals.

Dancing italian-brasilian group (made of descendants of Italians emigrated from Italy's Trentino region), celebrating the "2012 Festa dell'emigrante"

Tuesday, June 4, 2024


There was a period of time when the Greece 's western islands (usually called "Ionian islands") were devastated by the Middle Ages invasions and wars and so lost most of their original greek population: not only the island of Corfu (the greek "Kerkyra") seemed to be dominated by the nearby Italians (who largely colonised the island after the year 1100 AD) and so would be forever italian (or italianised, because the area was and is greek), but also -in minor proportions- the islands of Cefalonia ("Kephalonia"), Itaca ("Ithaca") and Zante ("Zakynthos").

Greece in 1388 AD. Note that Venice possessed Corfu and Creta, while Florence the Attica region around Athens and the other Ionian islands were in the "County Palatine of Cefalonia".

The Ionian islands remained under Byzantine rule after the end of the Roman empire, before being caught up in the wars of powerful European families (mainly Italian and French). Zante, Cefalonia and some of the smaller islands were conquered by the Normans of southern Italy in the 12th Century. Indeed from the late 11th century, the Ionian Islands became a battleground in the "Byzantine–Norman" Wars. The island of Corfu was held by the Normans in 1081–1085 and 1147–1149, while the Venetians unsuccessfully besieged it in 1122–1123. The island of Cephalonia was also unsuccessfully besieged in 1085 AD, but was plundered in 1099 AD by the Pisans and in 1126 AD by the Venetians. Finally, Corfu and the rest of its byzantine theme except for Leucas were captured by the Normans under Guglielmo II of Sicily in 1185 AD.

Although Corfu was recovered by the Byzantines by 1191 AD, the other islands henceforth remained lost to Byzantium, and formed a "County Palatine of Cephalonia and Zakynthos" under the sicilian admiral Margaritus of Brindisi. The County Palatine of Cephalonia and Zakynthos existed for four centuries, from 1185 to 1479 AD as part of the Kingdom of Sicily. It is noteworty to pinpoint that the title and the right to rule the Ionian islands of Cephalonia and Zakynthos was originally given to the italian Margaritus of Brindisi for his services to Guglielmo (William) II, King of Sicily, in 1185 AD. He ordered many of his sailors to move from southern Italy (mainly from Brindisi) to the Ionian islands with their families, in order to control better this territory.

In 1267 AD, Charles of Anjou, French King of Sicily, took the island of Corfu and attempted to replace the existing Orthodox religion with the Catholic one. Orthodox Christians were persecuted and all churches converted to Catholic churches. Many colonists from catholic Italy moved to the island, starting the ethnic group now called "Italian Corfiots" and located mainly in Corfu city. But the attempt of conversion fell and Corfu returned under Venetian rule in 1386 AD. Corfu stayed under Venetian domination for a long period of more than four centuries until 1797 AD, during which a large number of buildings, monuments, and other constructions were built becoming the symbols of Venetian/Italian architecture in Greece.

The italian Tocco family conquests & possessions in the Ionian islands in the XIV century

The County Palatine was governed by three families (who moved some families from Italy and France to repopulate the Ionian islands): the italian Orsini, the french House of Anjou and the italian Tocco family. The rule of the family of Tocco lasted for 122 years, up until 1479, when Ottomans captured Cephalonia, Zante, Lefkada and Ithaca. However the Turkish rule in the three islands of Cephalonia, Zante and Ithaca was short-lived. In 1481 AD, two years after the beginning of the Turkish rule, Antonio Tocco invaded and briefly occupied Cephalonia and Zante but he was soon driven out by the Venetians. Zante was officially recovered by the Venetians in 1485 AD. Then, Cephalonia, after sixteen years of Turkish occupation (1484–1500), became part of the "Stato da Màr" of the republic of Venice on 24 December 1500, with the Siege of the Castle of St. George. Finally, Ithaca, following the fate of Cephalonia, was conquered by Venice in 1503.

After Venice captured Cephalonia on 24 December 1500, the administration of the defense of all the islands was delegated to an official seated in Corfu. This official was being referred to as "the General Provveditore of the Three Islands" ("Provveditore Generale delle Tre Isole") and resided at the fortress of Angelokastro from 1387 AD to the end of the 16th century. The Three Islands refer to Corfu, Zante and Cephalonia. The Venetian equivalent for "Ionian Islands" is "Ixołe Jonie", the Italian being "Isole Ionie".

We know that before the XIV century the island of Corfu was populated by greek speaking inhabitants in the country & the villages, however the capital (Corfu city) was nearly fully venetian speaking. But this changed when the Turks wanted to conquest the island: the Ottomans in 1537 AD were not able to conquer the capital (and so most of the venetian speaking citizens survived the war) but did terrible massacres in the island's hinterland - while deporting as slaves nearly all of the christians living there (some estimates are terrible: the enslaved were more than 22,000 and so the Greeks of Corfu were reduced to a minimum of survivers).

Italian Tocco family's Coat of Arms, when ruled the "County Palatine of Cephalonia & Zante"

As a consequence of these Ottoman attacks & huge enslavements (that were done not only with Corfu, but also with all the other Ionian islansds) when the central Ionian Islands were captured by Venice their population was very low and Ithaca was completely uninhabited. To address this problem, a small colonisation to the islands took place. Catholic Italians from Italian "Terraferma" (and a few Corfiot Italians from Corfu) with some Orthodox Greeks from the "Stato da Màr" were transferred to the islands as part of the colonisation. The phenomenon is well attested for Cephalonia, after whose conquest in 1500 AD the island was colonized not only by civilian but also by military (called "Stradioti") refugees from the lost Venetian fortresses of Modon and Coron. Furthermore the island also received an influx of Italan families from the Venetian-ruled island of Crete, just conquered by the Turks.

Venetians, being Catholics, retained the privileges enjoyed by the Latin bishopric of the islands under the Count Palatine dynasties. The Catholics were not numerous, and during the Venetian period, they were mainly concentrated in Corfu, Itaca and Cephalonia. Most of them were descendants of Italian settlers but there were some conversions by Greeks to Catholicism.

After the terrible 3 tentatives of the Ottomans to conquer Corfu the researchers Mancini & D'Ambrosio think that in the 1580 census nearly 80% of the island inhabitants were venetian speaking and catholic, concentrated in Corfu city - while the other areas of Corfu were nearly totally depopulated. Something similar happened after the occupations of the other Ionian islands by the Turks: probably in those years Cephalonia had 2/3 of the population that was venetian speaking and catholic, while Itaca had a something similar percentage (but Zante had only around 35% of "italianised" inhabitants). So, we can say that these 3 islands (Corfu, Cefalonia and Itaca) were italianised at the end of the "Cinquecento" (at least we can say: more or less -because, of course, we have no precise statistical data about).

POSSIBLE POPULATION -according to "Paparrigopoulos, Constantine (1860). History of the Greek Nation, XI"- in 1580 in the islands of:
1) Corfu/Kerkyra................ (16000, of which 14000 venetian speaking)
2) Cefalonia/Kephalonia... (18000, of which 13500 " )
3) Itaca/Ithaca ................... (300, of which 250 " )
4) Zante/Zakynthos.......... .(14000, of which 4500 " )
Nota Bene: At least half of the venetian speaking population in Cefalonia and Zante was bilingual (greek-venetian), meaning they were Greeks partially "italianised" (or were descendants from at least one Italian relative, like a grandfather).

But the Republic of Venice welcame -after the Ottoman attacks & conquests in the XVI century- many refugees from the continental Greece conquered by the moslem Ottomans and so the islands were soon "flooded" by Greek christians. As a consequence when the republic of Venice ended in 1797 AD the orthodox Greeks were the majority in all the Ionian islands, with the only exception in Corfu city.

For example, after the collapse of the "Hexamilion wall", which was supposed to act as a defense across the Isthmus of Corinth; and hence, protect the Peloponnese, Leonardo III Tocco made an agreement with Venice to accept 10,000 refugees from this region. Leonardo III Tocco and his realm was increasingly vulnerable from Ottoman Turkish attacks. These refugees consisted of Greeks, Arvanites/Albanians and some Venetian officials & administrators (many with their families) and most of them were settled in Zante & Leucada. However Zakynthos was captured by the Ottoman Empire in 1478 AD, but conquered by the Republic of Venice in 1482 AD and remained for 3 centuries free of the Turk domination while mostly greek populated.

In the last two centuries of Venice domination of the Ionian islands, the greek speaking inhabitants grew in percentage, while the venetian/italian speaking diminished, remaining only in the upper class categories, related to military and administrive control. But with the weakening of the Republic of Venice, many italian speaking families preferred to go back to the italian peninsula to live without the danger of Ottoman attacks or conquests.

Only in Corfu city this reduction was minimal (one worldwide famous Corfiot Italian was Felice Beato, photographer born in Corfu city -or Venice, according to a few historians- in 1833: see photo of him in 1866 to the left)

The years when the Ionian islands were "italian" or "italianised" were over forever.....even if the italian irredentism (note that Ugo Foscolo -one of the Italian Risorgimento fathers- was born in Zante) appeared powerful during Mussolini's rule in the late 1930s/early 1940s.

if interested about these fascism years, please read my "Corfu italiana" (https://researchomnia.blogspot.com/2024/04/).

Wednesday, May 1, 2024


There are only a few studies -like the one done by D. Rodogno ("Fascism's European Empire: Italian Occupation During the Second World War". Cambridge University Press, 2006)- about the tentative to create the italian province of "Alpi Occidentali" (and another possible small province on the french riviera coast: the "Alpi Marittime"). This happened after the Italian occupation of southeastern France in 1940, during WW2 (if interested in further detailed info, please read in french: https://books.openedition.org/pur/130170#anchor-toc-1-43).

Here it is what I found in my researches:

Map of occupied southern France in 1940. In green the areas in the Alps annexed to Italy and in yellow the territory "demilitarised", but controlled by Italy in southeastern France (probably to be in future the "Provincia delle Alpi Occidentali"-after the end of the expected victorious war). It is painted in grey lines the area (up to the Rodano river) occupied by Italy from November 1942 to September 1943 and that was formerly part of Vichy France.

In 1940, Italy on 10 June declared war against Britain and France and on 21 June Italian forces entered South Eastern France. It was quickly occupied Mentone on the coast, but on the mountains it was more difficult the conquests for the Italian troops. However on the 24th of June France and Italy signed an armistice effective the following day and allowing the Italians to retain the gains of several small communes as well as Menton. Additionally, a demilitarized strip 50 km wide from the French side of Mediterranean Sea to the Swiss border was agreed to be under the control of a specially established Italian-French Armistice Commission under the supervision of German and Italian officers.

In summer 1940, the Italian Armistice Commission ("Commissione Italiana d'Armistizio con la Francia", CIAF) produced two detailed plans concerning the future of the occupied French territories, according to historian Davide Rodogno:

Plan 'A' presented an Italian military occupation all the way to the river Rhone, in which France would maintain its territorial integrity except for Corsica and Nizza.

Plan 'B', proposed by senator Francesco Salata, the director of a section of the ISPI dedicated to Italian territorial claims, encompassed the Italian annexation of the Alpes Maritimes (including the Principality of Monaco) and parts of Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, Hautes Alpes and Savoie. The territory would be administered as the new Italian province of "Alpi Occidentali" with the town of Briançon (Italian: Brianzone) acting as the provincial capital (please read: https://archive.org/details/fascismseuropean0000rodo/page/90/mode/2up).

In addition to Nice and Corsica, the Italians planned further territorial claims to impose on defeated France. The problem of Italy's western border was raised as early as August 1940 with a limit that reached the Varo river, but included Antibes and substantial adjustments to the Alpine border up to Mont Blanc. A second project - that of Senator Francesco Salata, director of a special ISPI series dedicated to Italian claims - added direct dominion over the Principality of Monaco. On 19 October 1940, in a letter to Hitler, Mussolini stated that the time had come to establish the metropolitan and colonial borders of tomorrow's France, reducing it to proportions that would prevent it from starting to dream of expansion and hegemony again. The 850,000 Italians who formed the largest mass of foreigners in France, said the Duce, would be repatriated for a total of at least 500,000 in a year.

The Italian and German territorial acquisitions would have removed another four million inhabitants from France. The peace treaty would have reduced France to a state with 34-35 million inhabitants, with a tendency to decline further. As for acquisitions of a metropolitan and colonial nature, he added: "They are limited to Nice, Corsica and Tunisia. I don't count french Somalia because it is a classic desert". Among the numerous plans for the dismemberment of metropolitan France, one of the most complete and detailed was drawn up in 1942 by the Italian Armistice Commission with France (CIAF). It proposed a Plan A and a Plan B which were developed starting from the assumption that the military occupation would in any case remain a transitory phase awaiting victory.

Pietro Badoglio reads the conditions of the Franco-Italian Armistice (24 June 1940) to the French delegation at the Villa Incisa outside Rome.

Plan A, or «maximum project for the occupation of mainland France up to the Rhône and Corsica», was also called the «general governorship». He envisaged a regime of military occupation, with unimpaired sovereign rights, except for Nice and Corsica, where the Italians would settle "firmly in the corners of civil organisation". French legislation would have remained in force, but all provisions contrary to Italian interests would have been suspended. Extraordinary legislation would be carried out through the proclamations of a supreme commander or governor, while the French civil authorities and officials would continue to exercise their functions, unless replaced by political, military or public order needs. The prefects, their heads of cabinet and the sub-prefects would have been exempted, while the subordinate officials and administrators of the municipalities, departments and other minor local authorities would have remained in service. The administrative structure would have been composed of a governor general, a superintendent for civil affairs, eleven provincial governors, assisted by civil commissioners and extraordinary commissioners and, finally, a high commissioner for the principality of Monaco.

Plan B, in the event of implementation of the Plan B, the superintendents for Civil Affairs would have introduced the Italian legal system and provided the administration cadres of the new province of the Western Alps: prefecture, sub-prefecture and provincial offices (Civil Engineering, Finance, Post Office, Instruction). In Corsica, a general would have immediately replaced the French prefects and vice-prefects with civil commissioners to be installed in Bastia, Corte, Sartene. Other commissioners would be appointed in Grasse, Barcelonnette and in the two districts of Bourg-Saint-Maurice and Modane, thus ensuring the functioning of the dissolved local authorities. To make this plan operational, 326 officials would have been enough.

It is noteworthy to pinpoint that Rodogno wrote also about the possibility of creating another small italian province around Mentone and Nizza: the "Alpi Marittime", to be added to the Liguria region (while the "Alpi Occidentali" was going to be added to the Piemonte region).

Furthermore, Mussolini started a process of italianisation in the occupied areas since 1940, with opening of italian schools and prohibition to speak french officially (only italian was allowed).This process of italianisation was most successful in the city of Mentone, that had nearly 90% of italian speaking inhabitants in summer 1943. And was also opened again by the italian fascists a local newspaper/magazine (the "Nizzardo", closed by the French in the XIX century, when Nizza was given to France by the Savoya's "Regno di Sardegna"), that proved to be totally nationalistic -because it was in the editing hands of the local italian irredentists.

Finally, we must remember that the "french départements" occupied entirely in November 1942 southern France were: Alpes-Maritimes; Basses-Alpes; Hautes-Alpes; Isère; Savoie; Haute-Savoie; the Var; and Corsica; while those occupied partially were Ain; Bouches-du-Rhône; Drôme; and the Vaucluse.

Map showing the Italian attacks and conquests in summer 1940

The following are excerpts from the very detailed and interesting “The Italian Occupation of South-Eastern France, 1940-1943” written by Niall MacGalloway (https://research-repository.st-andrews.ac.uk/bitstream/handle/10023/10858/NiallMacGallowayPhDThesis.pdf?sequence=2&isAllowed=y):

“The Italian Occupation of South-Eastern France, 1940-1943”, by Niall MacGalloway

The nature of the Italian zone of occupation makes it a difficult subject to examine. At different points during the war, the Italian zone of occupation encompassed different territories, making it difficult to talk about a single zone at any one time. Instead, the zone can be broadly divided into two temporal distinctions: those territories occupied from the signing of the Italo-French armistice in June 1940; and those territories which only came under occupation from November 1942.

The initial zone of occupation comprised of only 83,217 hectares and 28,473 inhabitants, the overwhelming majority of whom lived in the border town of Mentone. Mentone and the occupied communes in Savoie, Haute-Savoie and the Alpes-Maritimes remained the extent of the Italian zone of occupation until the Allied landings in North Africa prompted the Axis powers to occupy the remainder of unoccupied France in November 1942.

Prior to this invasion, Italy’s initial possessions had been treated as de facto annexed territories. The expansion of the zone of occupation brought a further eight départements under the control of Rome in their entirety, and another three were partially occupied. Nonetheless, even after the expansion of the zone of occupation, the territories initially occupied by Italy continued to be treated as annexed territories and were governed by different laws and by different agencies. As a result, it is possible to speak, if not of two separate Italian occupations, then of an Italian occupation with two distinct sections. Although governed by separate agencies, the two sections of the Italian zone of occupation existed simultaneously.

While the Italian annexed territories were subject to Italian law, this was never imposed on the occupied territories. Nonetheless, Italian organisations of law and order were present in these territories and Italian commanders did give orders to French administrative organs. In reality, of course, the Italian military presence in the region made it difficult for most mayors and public servants to ignore the wishes of the Italian military entirely. The Vichy government’s policy of collaboration with the occupiers in the hope that it would produce favourable results may also have created an atmosphere where such actions were acceptable. Unlike the annexed territories, however, any actions designed to co-operate with the Italian authorities were carried out thanks to the pragmatism of local government officials, rather than because they were legally obligated to do so: the legality of the Italian presence in the occupied territories had no real legal basis, especially in the armistice terms.

Despite her grandiose pre-war territorial ambitions, Italy opted for an initially small zone of occupation, most likely based upon pragmatism and economic and military realities. Italian troops were stationed inside the Linea verde (Green line), which roughly corresponded to the final position of the Italian troops.

Those territories stationed behind the Linea verde represented the extent of the initial zone of occupation, and the limits of Italy’s policies of annexation. French civilians were permitted travel within the limits of the Linea rossa (Red line). In practical terms, this covered almost the same area as the Linea verde, but encompassed small additional tracts of territory designed to compensate for mountain routes that were impassable in winter. The Linea viola (Purple line) represented an area fifty kilometres from the frontier which was to be completely demilitarised by the French army.

The armistice was also to be rolled out over a number of months, with demilitarisation of the Linea viola given the highest priority. In addition to these zones, a final Linea azzurra (Blue line) stretched far beyond the limits of the zone of occupation which gave Italian authorities the power to inspect French facilities as far afield as Lyon, Marseille and Toulon as well as Corsica.

Italian troops in Mentone, after the conquest.

Davide Rodogno has shown that by 1942, a time when Italy was practically starting to subordinate to Germany, two plans – Plan A and Plan B – had been established.

Plan A, also entitled “General Governorate”, foresaw a military occupation in which France would lose territorial sovereignty in the Nizzardo and Corsica, which would become Italian. French administrative staff would be dismissed, while 594 Italian officials, plus all Italian organisations, such as the carabinieri, would be sent to France.

Plan B envisaged an amalgamation of the Alpes-Maritimes and Monaco. Parts of the Alpes-deHaute-Provence, Haute-Alpes and Savoie would create the new province of Alpi Occidentali, containing 76,000 inhabitants with its capital at Briançon. This would become a full province of Italy, though difficulties were anticipated due to the sentiments of the population and communication issues. Corsica would be made autonomous, but dependent upon Italy.

Italy became increasingly aware that many of the territorial expansions that she made came at the behest of Germany. In France, the expansion of the zone of occupation to the Rhône was made possible only by the German diktat given to Pétain only hours earlier. Nonetheless, Italian subordination to Germany was once again demonstrated by the fact that Germany occupied the key cities of Avignon, Marseille, Lyon and Toulon (this city was inside the area under italian "control"!)>

Italy was determined to pursue her own policies in France. The most obvious example of this is the Italian policy towards Jews in the zone. In the years immediately following, scholars believed that the Jews were deliberately “saved” by the Italians. Italian anti-Semitism did not exhibit the same exterminatory drive that developed in Nazi Germany.

Davide Rodogno’s Plan A and Plan B for the future incorporation of French territories were certainly one way to "Italianise" areas of France, but it was not enough for Italy simply to declare the existence of new provinces. Plan B was arguably the more extensive of these two options and involved the amalgamation of the Alpes-Maritimes and the Principality of Monaco, which would presumably be re-styled as "Alpi Marittime". Tracts of the Alpes-deHaute-Provence, the Haute-Alpes and Savoie, would also be combined in order to create another new province: "Alpi Occidentali".

Despite the capital of this new province being placed at Briançon, it is likely that the region would gravitate towards Turin as the most dynamic city in the immediate vicinity. Although Nice was a growing urban centre, both Turin and Genoa were larger and benefitted from Italian policies designed to push these new provinces towards Piedmont and, to a lesser extent, Liguria.

In red the new limits of italian borders in Mentone (area west of Liguria that was united to Italy), after the conquest in June 1940.

Finally I want to pinpoint that at the outbreak of war, France was home to around 900,000 Italian citizens, but the real size of the Italian diaspora was far higher. There were also 500,000 Italians naturalised as French citizens during the 1930s, and many more who held dual French and Italian citizenship. In the department of Alpes-Maritimes, for instance, italian officials estimated that around 40% of the population of the department was Italian, and a further 40% of French citizens were of Italian descent. That means that 80% of the population in coastal areas like Mentone & near Nizza was clearly with italian roots directly or indirectly.

Because Italian nationality was passed down from the parent, regardless of place of birth, many people possessed dual French and Italian nationality. When war erupted, Italy began vigorously to assert its citizenship claims and consequently some men of the occupied areas served in the Italian Army.

And we must also remember that many thousands of Jews moved to the Italian zone of occupation to escape Nazi persecution in Vichy France. Nearly 80% of the remaining more than 300,000 French Jews took refuge there after November 1942, according to historians Paccini and Semelin. Indeed in January 1943 the Italians refused to cooperate with the Nazis in rounding up the Jews living in the occupied zone of France under their control and in March prevented the Nazis from deporting Jews in their zone.

In April 1943 German foreign minister Joachim Von Ribbentrop complained to Mussolini that "Italian military circles... lack a proper understanding of the Jewish question.". Quickly the italian marshall-general Cavallero answered saying that «The excessess against the Jews are not compatible with the honor of the Italian Army (Gli eccessi contro gli ebrei non sono compatibili con l'onore dell'esercito italiano.)»

Italian help to Jews after occupation of southeastern France in November 1942 (from https://www.holocaustrescue.org/chronology-of-rescue-by-italians):

Beginning in November of 1942, the Italian Army and Foreign Ministry officials occupy and administer eight French departments east of the Rhône River, in southern France. A French government remains in place, but the Italians control the area. In these Italian zones, French Jews and other refugees are protected right up until the Italians leave the war in September 1943.

Italian forces refuse to enforce any anti-Semitic measures in their zones. They refuse to allow any forced labor camps in their occupation zones. Further, the Italian occupying Army prevent any arrests or deportations of Jews in their area. As word spreads, thousands of Jewish refugees flee into the Italian zone. More than 50,000 Jews move to the Italian zone by July 1943. Twenty to thirty thousand of these are non-French Jews. Many of the Jews gravitate to the area around Nice (Italian "Nizza").

In order to prevent concentration of Jews in one area, refugees are sent inland to villages (like Saint-Martin-Vésubie) and even resort areas in each of the Italian occupied zones.

The Nazis strenuously protest these actions to Mussolini and representatives of the Italian Foreign Ministry. Mussolini's ministers and generals (like Cavallero) persuade him not to accede to the Nazi demands for deportations.

For nearly 10 months, Italian diplomats and the occupying military forces thwart the Nazis' "final solution" in southern France.

The following Italian diplomats were active in rescue of Jews in southern France: Gino Buti; Alberto Calisse, Consul in Nice; Guido Lospinoso, Interior Ministry Official and 'Inspector General of Racial Policy,' Nice; Vittoriano Manfredi, Consul in Grenoble; Augusto Spechel, Consul General in Nice; and Consul Vittorio Zoppi. In Paris, Consul General Gustavo Orlandini; and Vice Consuls Luciolli and Pasquinelli.

Two photos of French jews crossing the Alps north of Mentone while escaping to Italy in September 1943, after the German nazi took control of southeast France from the Italian army.

Monday, April 1, 2024


This month I am going to research about the italians in the island of Corfu' (called Kerkyra in Greek), specially during the years of the italian irredentism for the "Corfu' italiana".

The censuses of the populations living under the Venetian rule in the Greek regions -like the island of Corfu- are incomplete and fragmented both in quantity and quality, historians of demo- graphy think. We know only that around the year 1200 AD some families from Napoli's area and Puglia in southern Italy moved to live in Corfu, when the island was occupied by the italian Normans and their successors (but we don't know how many they were). Even relatively recent XVII, XVIII & some early XIX century documents lack a complete and continuous series of statistical data. I found only that in 1500 there were nearly 70,000 inhabitants in this island, but only 16,360 in 1580 (according to "sindici" Zuanne Gritti and Giulio Garzoni who did the first "official" census): a huge reduction due to the bloody attacks done by the Ottomans in 1537/1571/1573, who tried to conquer the Venetian Corfu'.

Map of Venetian Corfu in 1720.

We know that before the XVII century the island was populated by greek speaking inhabitants in the country & the villages, however the capital (Corfu city) was nearly fully venetian speaking. But this changed when the Turks wanted to conquest the island: the Ottomans in 1537 were not able to conquer the capital (and so most of the venetian speaking citizens survived the war) but did terrible massacres in the island's hinterland - while deporting as slaves nearly all of the christians living there (some estimates think that the enslaved were more than 22,000 and so the Greeks were reduced to a minimum of survivers).

They repeated the tentative in 1571 and 1573 (doing some additional massacres and enslavements, however not at the same huge level), but were again defeated by the Venetians: Will Durant, an American historian, claims that Corfu owed to the Republic of Venice the fact that it was the only part of Greece never conquered by the Muslim Turks.

Researcher Mancini thinks that in the 1580 census nearly 80% of the island inhabitants were venetian speaking, concentrated in Corfu city - while the other areas of Corfu were nearly totally depopulated.

But the Republic of Venice welcame -after the 3 attacks- many refugees from the continental Greece conquered by the moslem Ottomans and so the island was soon "flooded" by Greek christians. Already in the third census done in 1596 (according to Gerassimos D. Pagratis in his "LA POPOLAZIONE DI CORFÙ NEL CINQUECENTO") Corfu had a population of 23,748 inhabitants, an increase due mainly because of greek refugees from Lepanto, Modone, Corone and Navarino. And in the following centuries the greek population in the island increased further in percentage, while the venetian speaking remained at the same level - concentrated mainly in the capital and in some minor localities.

When disappeared the Republic of Venice at the end of the XVIII century, only Corfu city was mostly venetian speaking (and also it is noteworthy to pinpoint that inside the city there was a growing minority of Greek speaking inhabitants, relocated from the country nearby: according to french historians probably they were nearly 35% in 1800 Corfu city).

Then the "Corfioti italiani" (as were called) in the XIX century started to disappear. But their reduction originated the so called "italian irredentism" in the capital city (indeed during the XIX century the Corfiot Italians were mainly concentrated in the city of Corfu, which was called "Città di Corfù" by the Venetians).

Furthermore we must remember that the signatories of the creation in 1815 of the "United States of the Ionian Islands" (the first greek independent state of modern times) were nearly all Corfiot Italians:

B. Theotoki, president. - Cav. Calichiopulo. - Alessandro Marietti. - Niccolò Anino Anas°. - Vettor Caridi. - D. Foscardi. - D. Bulzo. - Felice Zambelly. - Basilio Zaro. - Valerio Stai. - Giovanni Morichi. - Stefano Palazzuol Scordilli. - Anastasio Battali. - Anastasio Cassimati. - Giacomo Calichiopulo Manzaro. - Spiridione Giallina Ym Anastasio. - An.° Tom.° Lefcochilo. - Cav. Niccolò Agorosto. - Marino Veia. - Niccolò D. Dallaporta. - Spiridione Metaxa Liseo. - Pietro Caidan. - Sebastiano D Schiadan. - Daniele Coidan. - Paolo Gentilini. - Spiridione Focca Gio. - Demetrio Arvanitachi. - Dionisio Genimata. - Giulio Domeneghini. - Francesco Mazzan. - Angelo Mercati. - Giovanni Melissimo. - Marino Stefano. - Angelo Condari. - Niccolò Cavada. - Pietro Petrizzopulo. - Gio. Psoma. - Niccolò Vretto. - Giorgio Massello. - Stefano Fanarioli. - Riccardo Plasket, secretary. - Dom. Valsamachi, secretary.

As can be seen, only the president & another two had Greek surnames, while all the others have Italian family names: this simple evidence shows the influence of the Corfiot Italians in the History of Greece! And we cannot forget that Ioannis Capodistrias (considered a founder of the modern Greek state and the architect of Greek independence) was born in Corfu city in a venetian family emigrated to Corfu in the XIII century from Istria's Capodistria: his family's name in Capodistria had been Vitori or Vittori

But the re-emergence of Greek nationalism, after the Napoleonic era, contributed to the disappearance of the Corfiot Italians. Corfu was ultimately incorporated into Greece in 1864 and the Greek government abolished the use of italian in the Ionian islands in 1870.

It is important -however- to pinpoint that the Kingdom of Italy (1861-1947) expanded Italian influence and control on some islands of Greece: in the first half of the XX century there were also a few tentatives to create some "italian provinces" in those islands ( "Provincia di Corfu", "Provincia di Rodi", "Provincia delle Cicladi" and "Provincia delle Sporadi").

Initially these tentatives were due to some ideals linked to the "Italian Irredentism", like as happened with Corfu and the Ionian islands. Those islands (mainly Corfu, actual Kerkyra, please read also http://wwwbisanzioit.blogspot.com/search/label/Corfu) in the beginning of the XIX century had a huge community of venetian speaking inhabitants (the island of Cefalonia -actual Kephalonia- was nearly totally venetian speaking in the XVIII century, according to: Kendrick, Tertius T. C. (1822). "The Ionian islands: Manners and customs"; p. 106 ), as a consequence of the Republic of Venice "dominions" in this region since the Middle Ages. For example one of the Italian "Risorgimento" fathers was Ugo Foscolo, born in Zante (actual Zakynthos).

Festa di San Spiridiano in "Citta di Corfu" (Corfu city) in early summer 1942, showing some of the nearly 2000 Corfiot Italians of the island. The city was proposed to be the capital of a possible 1943 "Provincia di Corfu", but WW2's Italian defeat blocked this project

In Corfu, the "Corfiot Italians" were helped by Mussolini, when he took control of Italy in the 1920s (read, if interested in further information, the article I created in wikipedia and named "Corfiot Italians" or see: https://6612springbottomway.blogspot.com/2018/12/blog-post.html).

Additionally it is noteworhty to pinpoint that the island of Corfu was "administratively" separated from Greece, when was occupied by Italy in spring 1941, while the Corfiot Italians welcomed the Italian troops in those 1941 days: see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HCktc3anQo4. There were -also- some comments from the same Mussolini in order to create a "Provincia di Corfu" in late 1942.

Pugliese and Neapolitan fishermen (the latter engaged in the activity of coral extraction since the eighteenth century) were the backbone of the Italian community of Corfu island, estimated at 1,300 by a census promoted in 1928 by the Greek authorities: they reached the quota of 1,500 people during the first year of the second world war, when they welcomed the arrival of the Italian troops in April 1941 (video showing groups of Italian Corfiots throwing flowers to Italian soldiers:

In fact, the Italians of Corfu, even if reduced to a thousand in the late thirties of the XX century by the Greek authorities, were strongly supported by fascist propaganda and in the summer of 1941 (after the Italian occupation of all the Ionian islands) Italian schools were reopened in the city of Corfu. In autumn 1942 the Italians of Corfu became almost 2000, concentrated mainly in Corfu city.

And Mussolini continuously declared -during 1940/1941/1942- that Corfu's urban architecture influence derives from Venice, reflecting the fact that from 1386 to 1797 the island was ruled by the Venetians. Indeed the architecture of the Old Town of Corfu along with its narrow streets, the "kantounia', has clear Venetian influence and is amongst the actual World Heritage Sites in Greece. Another notable Venetian-era buildings include the "Nobile Teatro di San Giacomo di Corfù", the first Greek opera house.

After the defeat of Italy in WW2, the greek government "exterminated" the italians of the island: actually not one single member of this 2000 persons community remains in Corfu!

The following are excerpts from the article about the "Corfiot Italians " that I wrote in wikipedia some years ago:


Foto of Old town of Corfu city


The origins of the Corfiot Italians can be found in the expansion of the Italian States toward the Balkans during and after the Crusades. The Kingdom of Naples sent in the XII century some Italian families to Corfu to rule the island conquered, and the same transfer - but in larger scale - was done by the Republic of Venice in 1204 and later. Those families brought to Corfu the Italian language of the Middle Ages.

When Venice ruled Corfu and the Ionian islands during the Renaissance, all the nobility of the islands was Venetian and the dominant presence of this community lasted until the first half of the XIX century.

Under Venetian rule, most of the Corfiote upper classes spoke Italian (or Venetian in many cases) and converted to Roman Catholicism, but the mass of people remained Greek in language and religion mainly after the Ottoman sieges of the XVI century.

In the main city of Corfu, called "Cittá di Corfu" by the Venetians, were concentrated the Corfiote Italians of Corfu. More than half of the population of Corfu city in the XVIII century was venetian speaking. The development of the Greek nationalism, after Napoleon times, created a process that assimilated in the next century the community of the Corfiot Italians (in 1870 the Greek government abolished all the Italian schools in the Ionian islands, just incorporated to Greece in 1864).


The Republic of Venice dominated Corfu for nearly five centuries and many Venetians moved to the island. By the end of the XV century, the Italian language and culture -- including in some ways the Roman Catholic church -- came to predominate.

Kerkyra (the Greek name of Corfu) remained in Venetian hands till 1797, though several times assailed by Turkish naval and land forces and subjected to four notable sieges in 1537, 1571, 1573 and 1716, in which the great natural strength of the city and its defenders asserted itself time after time. The effectiveness of the powerful Venetian fortifications of the island was a great factor that enabled Corfu to remain the last bastion of free, uninterrupted Greek and Christian civilization in the southern Balkans after the fall of Constantinople.

Will Durant, a French historian, claims that Corfu owed to the Republic of Venice the fact that it was the only part of Greece never conquered by the moslem Turks. The Turks occupied the other Ionian islands, but were unsuccessful with their four sieges of Corfu. This fact gave Corfu and Malta the title of Bastions of Christian Europe during the late Renaissance.

The "New Venetian fort" in Corfu city

Corfu Town looks very different from most Greek towns because of Corfu's unique history. From 1386 to 1797, Corfu was ruled by Venetian nobility: much of the town reflects this era when the island belonged to the Republic of Venice, with multi-storied buildings on narrow lanes.

Before the Ottoman conquest of the Balkans most of Corfu population spoke the "Veneto da mar" dialect as first or second language. But a hiuge influx of Christian refugees from Greece and Albania along with the mortality of the Black Death and the Turkish deportations of the original Corfiotes from Corfu (when they tried unsuccessfully to conquer the island for three times), changed the ethnic-linguistic-religious composition of the island population. From predominantly Venetian-catholic before the XIV century the island of Corfu became Greek-orthodox by the XVII century, with the exception of Corfu city that maintained a majority of venetian speaking population (with the Italkian of the Jewish community). This was a process, provoked mainly by the Ottoman invasions, similar to what happened in the venetian Dalmatia (where only the cities -like Zara, Spalato and Cattaro- maintained a majority of venetian speaking people).

The island served even as a refuge for Greek scholars, and in 1732 became the home of the first Academy of modern Greece. Many Italian Jews took refuge in Corfu during the venetian centuries and spoke their own language (Italkian), a mixture of Hebrew and Venetian with some Greek words.

The Venetian influence was important in the development of the Opera in Corfu. During Venetian rule, the Corfiotes developed a fervent appreciation of Italian opera, and many local composers, such as the Corfiot Italians Antonio Liberali and Domenico Padovani developed their career with the theatre of Corfu, called Teatro di San Giacomo. Indeed, the architecture of Corfu remains much more Italian than anywhere else in Greece.

Venetians promoted the Catholic church during their four centuries rule in Corfu. Even if today the majority of Corfiots are Greek Orthodox (following the official religion of Greece) there is however a percentage of Catholics (5%) who owe their faith to their origins. These contemporary Catholics are mostly families who came from Malta, but also from Italy during the Republic of Venice. Today the Catholic community consists of about 4000 people, (2/3 of Maltese descent) who live almost exclusively in the Venetian "Citadel" of Corfu City, living harmoniously side-by-side with the Orthodox community.

Venetian domination influenced extensively the way of life in the island in many ways: the local cuisine, for example, was influenced at a great degree by the Venetian cuisine. Today, Corfu's cuisine maintains some Venetian delicacies, cooked with local spicy recipes: "Pastitsado" (the most popular dish in the island of Corfu, that comes from the Venetian dish Spezzatino), "Strapatasada", "Sofrito", "Savoro" , "Bianco" and "Mandolato". Even the Corfu tradition of the Carnival (Ta Karnavalia) was introduced by the Venetians.

The Italian influence is evidenced even in Corfu's spacious squares such as the popular "Spinada" and its narrow cobblestone alleys known as "Kantounia". The Italian Renaissance is best represented on Corfu by the surviving structures of the old "Fortezza Vecchia" on the eastern side of the town and created by the Veronese military engineer Michele Sanmicheli and the Venetian Ferrante Vitelli, who designed the later fortress on the west, the "Fortezza Nuova".

In the Venetian period the town of Corfu began to grow on a low hillock situated between the two forts. In many respects Corfu typifies the small Venetian town, or borgo, of which there are numerous other surviving examples in the former Venetian territories of the Adriatic Sea, such as Ragusa and Spalato in Dalmatia. As in Venice itself, the "campi" developed haphazardly in the urban fabric where it was natural for residents to congregate, especially around churches, civic buildings, fountains, and cisterns. The best example of such a space is Plateia Dimarcheiou, or Town Hall Square, overlooked on its north side by the seventeenth-century Loggia dei Nobili (which today serves as the seat of local government) and on the east side by the late sixteenthcentury Catholic Church of St. Iakovos, or St. James.

Actually the Corfu City Hall was the original "Teatro di San Giacomo": during Venetian rule, the Corfiotes developed a fervent appreciation of Italian opera, which was the real source of the extraordinary (given conditions in the mainland of Greece) musical development of the island during that era. The opera house of Corfu during 18th and 19th century was that of the "Nobile Teatro di San Giacomo", named after the neighbouring catholic cathedral, but the theatre was later converted into the Town Hall. A long series of local composers, such as the Corfiot Italians Antonio Liberali and Domenico Padovani contributed to the fame of the Teatro di San Giacomo.

Cafe (Italian style) in Corfu city


The Italian Risorgimento was initially concentrated in the Italian peninsula with the surrounding continental areas (Istria, Dalmatia, Trentino, Nizzardo, etc..) and did not reached Corfu and the Ionian islands. One of the main heroes of the Italian Risorgimento, the poet Ugo Foscolo, was born in Zante from a noble venetian family of the island, but only superficially promoted the possible unification of the Ionian islands to Italy.

Consequently, the small communities of venetian speaking people in Corfu were mostly assimilated by the Greek government after the island became part of Greece in 1864, mainly after all the Italian schools were closed in 1870. But the Italian language maintained some importance, as can be seen by the fact that poets like Stefano Martzokis (Marzocchi was the surname of the father, an Italian from Emilia-Romagna) and Geranimos Markonos, the first from Corfù and the second from Cefalonia, wrote in Italian some of their poems in the second half of the XIX century.

The island of Corfu was the refuge for many Italians in exile during the Wars of Independence of Italy, like Niccolò Tommaseo (who married Diamante Pavello-Artale, a Corfiot Italian). It is noteworthy to pinpoint that the greek government closed the italian school of Corfu city in the second half of the XIX century and this fact reducrd the importance of the Corfiot italians in the Corfu society.

Initially the italian government did not react to the slow disappearance of the Italians of Corfu, but after WWI the Kingdom of Italy started to apply a policy of expansionism toward the Adriatic area and saw Corfu as the gate of this sea. Mussolini developed to the extreme nationalistic positions the ideals of the Italian irredentism and promoted actively the unification of Corfu to Italy.

Consequently, the Corfiote Italians, even if reduced to a few hundreds in the 1930s, were strongly supported by the fascist propaganda and in summer 1941 - after the Italian occupation of the Ionian islands - Italian schools were reopened in Corfu city.


Italy occupied Corfu two times: the first for a few months only in 1923 by Mussolini, after the assassination of Italian officers; the second during WWII, from April 1941 to September 1943:

The first) The Corfu incident was used by Italy to occupy temporarily Corfu from august to September 1923.
The second) During the Greco-Italian War Corfu was occupied by the Italians in April 1941. They administered Corfu and the Ionian islands as a separate entity from Greece until September 1943, following Mussolini's orders of fulfilling the Italian Irredentism and make Corfu part of the Kingdom of Italy.

The following is the detailed chronology of the two occupations:


At the end of December 1915, Italy sent a military force to Corfu under the command of General Marro. They established Post Offices with the French occupation troops there. In 1915-1919, the Italian and French forces (as well as Serbian forces) remained on the island of Corfu. The Italians did not have any intention to pull out in 1919, but the British and the French government forced them to displace.

In 1923, the Italians tried to occupy Corfu again. The morning of the 27th of August 1923, unknown people (probably Greeks) murdered the General Enrico Tellini and other three officers of the Italian engrave deputation on the Greek – Albanian border.

Italy made an announcement asking within 24 hours the following demands: the apology of the Greek people; the commemoration of the dead in the Catholic Church of Athens, with all the members of the Greek government to participate; the honor of the Italian flag in the Italian naval squadron, which would have shipping in Faliro; the investigation of the Greek authorities adjoined by the Italian military attendant carnal Perone di San Martino, which should end within 5 days; the death penalty of the guilty people; the Greek government should pay the amount of 50 million Italian pounds in 5 days, as a penalty; the dead should be honored with military honors in Preveza.

The Greek government responded accepting only the following demands: the Greeks accepted to present the apologies; the commemoration; the honor of the Italian flag at the Embassy; the honor of the dead in Preveza.

Consequently on 31st of August 1923, the Italian Army suddenly attacked Corfu. The commander Antony Foschini asked from the Prefect of Corfu to surrender the island. The Prefect refused and he informed the government. Foschini warned him that the Italian forces would attack at 17:00 and the Corfiots refused to raise the white flag in the fortress. Seven thousand refugees, 300 orphans plus the military hospital were lodged in the Old Fortress, as well as the School of Police in the New Fortress. At 17:05 the Italians bombarded Corfu for 20 min.

There were victims among the refugees of the old Fortress and the Prefect ordered the raising of the white flag. The Italians besieged the island and set the forces ashore. From the beginning of their possession, they started to inflict hard penalties on the people who had guns, and the officers declared that their possession was permanent. There were daily requisitions of houses and they censored the newspapers. Greece asked for the interference of the Society of the Nations, in which Greece and Italy were members, and demanded the solution of the problem through arbitration. The Italian government of Mussolini refused, declaring that Corfu will be possessed until the acceptance of the Italian terms. On 7th of September 1923, the ambassador’s conference in Paris ended with the evacuation of the Italian forces from Corfu, which finally happened on the 20th of September 1923 and ended on the 27th of the same month.

Nobile Teatro di San Giacomo di Corfù (now Corfu City Hall)


During the Second World War Mussolini wanted to possess the Ionian Islands, which he succeeded with the help of the Germans during the Greco-Italian War. The Italians occupied Corfu from March 28, 1941. They implemented a process of italianization, with creation of Italian schools, centered around the small surviving community of the Corfiote Italians, who still spoke the venetian dialect.

The first reaction to the Italian occupation happened on the first Sunday of November 1941. During the procession of the Saint Spyridon, the fascist young Corfiot Italians participated and provoked the students of the Greek high schools. When the procession arrived in the Upper Square, the students started to leave whilst singing the national Greek songs. The “Carbinaria” and the “Finetsia” fascist groups attacked and arrested many Greek students, beating them and exiling some of them to the island of Othonous. After that episode there was a relative calm in Corfu until the surrender of Italy in September 9, 1943.

It is noteworthy to pinpoint that the island of Corfu was one of the few areas of Greece without famine in 1942, thanks to the food help from the italian government.

The small Corfiot Italian community numbered more than 1500 people, living mainly in Corfu city, when Mussolini occupied the island in 1941-1943. They increased to nearly 2000 in summer 1943, because the italian schools were reopened attracting personnel from Italy and a few descendants of some Corfiot italians (who refugiated in Italy in the XIX century) moved back to Corfu city. Furthermore it is noteworthy to pinpoint that the community of "Corfiot Maltese" (numbering around 5000) was initiating in those years an italianisation process, because also Malta was considered by the Fascists as an irredent island that should be belonging to the kingdom of Italy.

From the 10th to the 14th of September of 1943, the Germans tried to force to surrender the Italian garrison in Corfu, while the political prisoners were set free from the small island of Lazaretto. The morning of 13th of September, Corfiots woke up to the disasters of the war. The German air raids continued the whole day bombarding the port, the Fortresses and strategic points. During the night of 14th of September, huge damages happened in the Jewish parts of Saint Fathers and Saint Athanasios, the Court House, the Ionian Parliament, the Ionian Academy, -in which the Library was lodged-, the Schools of Middle Education, the Hotel "Bella Venezia", the Custom Office, the Manor-Houses and the Theatre. Finally the next week the Germans occupied the island with huge losses between the Italians, forcing successively the nearly 5000 Jews (speakers of the "Italkian", a language made of hebrew, italian and a few greek words) of the island to concentration camps in Germany.

Actually there are no more Corfiot Italians in the island: the last peasant speaking the "Veneto da mar" local dialect died in the 1980s.

Magazine front-image showing Italian troops landing in Corfu city in April 1941

However something remains of the Italian presence in the island: the long Venetian domination left not only architecture masterpieces but also:
1) a very strong influence on local Greek language, which absorbed a wide range of Italian words - more than one third of the words in the local greek dialect of Corfú city are loanworded from the Italian language;
2) the fact that the Corfu's cuisine also maintains many Venetian delicacies, cooked with local spicy recipes. Dishes with italian roots include "Pastitsada" (the most popular dish in the island of Corfu, that comes from the Venetian dish "Spezzatino"), "Strapatsada", "Sofrito", "Savoro", "Bianco", "Poulenta", "Mandola", "Fogatsa", "Bourdeto", "Stifado" and "Mandolato" (to name the few most famous);
3) some important traditions in Corfu that were introduced by the Venetians, such as the Carnival (Ta Karnavalia) and the passion for "opera".
4) The "Liston": this elegant promenade of Corfu city is lined with cafes and restaurants and has the same "way of life" (for the local people) like in any italian beach town.

Friday, March 1, 2024



From 1876 to 1980 more than 26 million Italians emigrated abroad: it is interesting to note that this figure is equal to the total Italian population at the time of italian unification in 1861.

According to the data available (since 1905), 48 percent of Italian emigrants returned before of the First World War, 1.52 percent between the two wars, 57 percent after the second world War. More than half of the emigrants returned home, on average at least once. The peak of the phenomenon was reached at the beginning of the 20th century, when more than half a million people left the country every year, and in 1913 with 872,000 units. Before the first war fourteen million people had already emigrated worldwide: 55 percent of the entire flow of a century. Initially the flow was mainly toward the Americas.

At the end of the second decade of the 2000s, over 1.5 million Italians resided in Latin America, approximately a third of the 5.5 million registered in the Registry of Italians Resident Abroad (AIRE). Eight Latin American countries appear in the ranking of the top 25 Italian communities abroad: Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, Uruguay, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and Mexico. Other communities of a certain importance are found in Paraguay, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Panama, Bolivia, while in Honduras and Nicaragua there are less than a thousand Italian residents. Therefore, it is valid to say that Latin America is mostly a "continent of Italians".

"Festa do immigrante" (Immigrant Celebration) in Sao Paulo/Brasil

The Italian presence was decisive in the formation of Argentina and Brazil as modern countries, but also in the others the influence of the Italians was felt to a notable extent. The direct contribution of the pioneers of emigration was strengthened by the contribution given by their descendants, who became local citizens. Natives are estimated at nearly 32 million in Brazil, more than 25 million in Argentina, 2 million in Colombia, 1.5 million in Uruguay, 1 million in Venezuela, and more than 850 thousand in Paraguay and Mexico. By adding the results of these estimates to the Italians registered with AIRE in all the world, we arrive at nearly exceeding the population resident in Italy in 2020 (that was 61 million, but some estimates -like those of researcher Mancini- judge that the descendants of italians in the world should be nearly 100 million!)

The first flows were those of Risorgimento exiles followed, from the Unification of Italy onwards, by those who moved for work, driven to do so by a situation of poverty. The "Great Emigration" occurred from 1876 onwards, was intense for the entire duration of the century, and even increased in the following century until the eve of the First World War. Emigration reduced in intensity after the First World War and during the period of the fascist regime while the emigrants were mainly of southern origin in the XX century (because in the northern Italy the process of big industrialization -mainly in the triangle Milan/Torino/Genova- stopped the former huge emigration).

After the Second World War, the flows resumed towards Latin America for only a few years and were directed with particular intensity towards Venezuela following its oil boom. Therefore, the destinations of that continent were supplanted by European ones and, moreover, Italy's internal development strongly reduced the tendency to exodus. Few Italians now emigrate to Latin American countries: for family, commercial or business reasons, as representatives of NGOs, or for other professional reasons, while temporary travel for tourism is more substantial. However, Latin Americans who have emigrated to Italy since the 1970s have become more numerous, i.e. since Italy began to become a country of immigration due to economic, social hardship and also political instability in Latin America.

Argentina fascists in 1939: the "Fascio" of Buenos Aires had 4000 members (a small number in the total italian population of the city). After the WW2 disappearance of fascism, nearly all of them become fanatical supporters of Peronism

Actually the city with the highest number of people of Italian origin in the world is Sao Paulo, Brazil: six million and half of the 11 million "saopaulinhos" (or nearly 60% of the total population). Not only that: 44% of the population of Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay, and 52% of those who live in Buenos Aires, which has 12 million inhabitants, have Italian roots.

Uruguay is the latinoamerican nation were was more strong the "italianism": the period of the late 1930s represented an era in which the Italian community achieved primary importance in Uruguayan society. It coincided with the rise to power of the Italian-Uruguayan Baldomir Ferrari (1938-1943). The Italian-Uruguayan President Ferrari obtained that the hydroelectric dam of the artificial lake "Rincón del Bonete", on the Rio Negro, was financed and partially built mainly by the Italian government in the late 1930. This President of Uruguay openly appreciated Italian fascism and attempted to imitate some of its corporate and political characteristics.

In Montevideo, for example, there was a political Fascio with 1200 members, which gave 150 Italian-Uruguayan volunteers to the Italian conquest of Ethiopia in 1936. President Ferrari (and his predecessor) managed to obtain funding and technical support from Mussolini (and also from Hitler) to build the dam on the Rio Negro, creating the largest artificial lake in South America. Furthermore, he promoted the beginning of the industrialization process of Uruguay through Italian companies. The Italian diplomat Serafino Mazzolini stated that Mussolini considered Uruguay as the most "Italian" state in the Americas, with which to form a possible future political and ethnic-racial alliance.

The italian language acquired considerable importance in Montevideo in those years and became compulsory in Uruguay's high schools in 1942, during the presidency of Baldomir Ferrari.

The Chile's Alessandri family, of Italian descent, in 1920, with two future presidents of Chile, Arturo Alessandri (1920–1925 and 1932–1938) and Jorge Alessandri (1958–1964)

The following are the ten highest percentages of Italian descendants (in parentesis the actual Italian citizens) in the main LatinoAmerican countries. It is noteworthy to pinpoint thar Brasil has the biggest amount of Italian descendants (32 million), while Argentina (63%), Uruguay (44%) and Paraguay (40%) have the highest percentage of them in the total national population:

1) Brasil: 32 million (The Embassy of Italy in Brazil in 2013, reported the number of 32 million descendants of Italian immigrants in Brazil (about 15% of the population); half of them in the state of São Paulo, while there were around 450,000 Italian citizens in Brazil.

2) Argentina: nearly 25 million (at least 25 million Argentines -62.7% of the country's population- have some degree of Italian ancestry, most of them in the Buenos Aires region. And there are nearly 700,000 Italian citizens in all Argentina)

3) Paraguay: 2,500,000 (The Italian embassy calculates that nearly 40% of the Paraguayans have recent and/or distant Italian roots: about 2,500,000 Paraguayans are descendants of Italian emigrants to Paraguay. And actually 13,000 italians are residents, mainly in the capital area)

4) Colombia: 2 million (nearly 2,000,000 Italian descendants of full or partial ancestry live in Colombia, corresponding to about 4% of the total population. There are also 20,315 Italians in 2019 (by citizenship) who reside in Colombia)

5) Uruguay: nearly 1,500,000 (an estimated 1,500,000 Uruguayans have Italian ancestry, about 44% of the total population of Uruguay. The italians residents in Uruguay are 90,000).

6) Peru: more than 1,450,000 (the descendants of italians directly and indirectly -since colonial times- are around one million and half, or the 4.8% of the total population of Peru. The italian citizens are 35000).

7) Venezuela: more than one million (some italian embassy estimates reach the 2 million descendants, while the Italian citizens are more than one hundred thousand)

8) Mexico: nearly 900,000 (there are more than 850,000 Mexicans descended from Italian emigrants since colonial times. Population figures are uncertain because, unlike other countries, Mexico's census does not gather information on specific ethnic groups. Nearly 10,000 are italian citizens living in Mexico, mainly in the capital area)

9) Chile: 700,000 (It is estimated that more than 650,000 Chileans are of full or partial Italian ancestry, corresponding to about 3.9% of the total population, while Italians by birth in Chile are about 52,000).

10) Costa Rica: 460,000 (according to the italian embassy there are nearly half a million Costa Ricans of Italian descent, corresponding to about 7.8% of Costa Rica's population, while there are around 2,300 Italian citizens)

Finally we must remember that the province of Quebec in Canada is officially french speaking and can be considered one of the latino territories in the Americas. In the 2016 Quebec census there were 327,000 italians and italian descendants.

Giuliana Sansaloni, queen of the italian community in Oberá, Misiones, Argentina

The country in Latin America that has experienced the biggest italian emigration after WW2 is Venezuela.

Italians in Venezuela

In the history of Italian emigration to Venezuela, four phases can be distinguished. Arrivals in the country, up until the 1920s, were few and the Italian presence numbered around 3 thousand units. The second phase of Italian emigration took place in the period of the great development of the oil industry until the beginning of the Second World War, when Venezuela became the first crude oil exporting country. Even in that period, the routes of emigrants towards traditional transoceanic destinations and in the Italian colonies in Africa prevailed: there were 3,137 Italians in Venezuela in 1941. The third phase began after the Second World War. Between 1950 and 1960, the period in which the "Venezuelan dream" took hold, the arrivals of Italians exceeded 100 thousand units. The Italians were not disappointed because they, thanks to their resourcefulness, together with the Spanish and the Portuguese contributed to the notable development of the country, entering all sectors. That was the period of the "enlightened dictatorship" of Marcos Perez Jimenez (1953-1958), who managed to promote strong development with the plan to strengthen infrastructure throughout the country.

The Italians, among whom there were few technicians and many agricultural workers, were able to seize the opportunities of this expansion phase and spread throughout the territory, unlike other European communities who favored the capital. There were few Italians hired in the public sectors as doctors, veterinarians, architects and in other sectors. There were many who created their own family-run businesses, obtaining subcontracts from larger ones. Furthermore, with this multiplicity of companies they managed to offer the variety of services required by a society that was beginning to understand well-being of the XX century. The fact that the national currency was strong (and the favorable exchange rate compared to Italy) allowed the emigrants who settled there, on the one hand, to send substantial savings to Italy and, on the other, to achieve family reunions. There was no shortage of those who preferred to operate as commuters between the two countries.

At the 1961 census, there were 121,733 Italians in Venezuela, demonstrating the great growth of the community. However, the repatriations were also substantial, as there was a widespread tendency to stay in place for only a few years. The post-war years were those in which Italians managed to make themselves appreciated on a cultural level, as well as on an entrepreneurial level (especially in the food, construction and fashion sectors). Some data do not fail to make an impression. In the 1950s, at least 12% of the capital's constructions relied on the work of Italians, but in the early 1960s it was nearly 44%! In the food sector, pasta prevailed over the classic corn flour, previously a national food, making Venezuela the second pasta consumer country after Italy. In turn, Italian fashion managed to impose itself on French fashion. Between 1952 and 1958 the production of footwear was in the hands of Italian protagonists. The share then rose to 80%, as emerged from the 1984-1985 industry census, highlighting that as many as 520 companies in the sector were managed by Italians.

After such a strong development, a long phase of decline began (and continues), both in terms of arrivals from Italy and in terms of the economic management of the country. Five million Venezuelans, forced to leave their country and take refuge mostly in other Latin American countries, are a sign of the catastrophic situation in Venezuela in the 2020s.

Compared to the past, the '90s and the first two decades of the new century were not satisfactory and, indeed, the last phases can be defined as dramatic due to the civil war, which saw the president of the National Assembly Antonio Guialdo Marquez, opposing the President of the Republic Nicolas Maduro Moros, who succeeded Hugo Chavez in 2013 (in office from 1999 to 2012). Maduro's government has become unwelcome at home and unsupported by most foreign countries. The 2018 elections did not restore calm.

Furthermore, the crisis, made unbearable by economic decay, had already made itself evident in its institutional and political implications in the 1970s, when the country was struggling to channel the considerable resources deriving from oil into functional uses for local development: a very serious deficiency, taking into account that 90% of the industries and mineral resources were in public hands. State gigantism favored the phenomena of corruption and clientelism. For example, in the past it was foreseen the hiring of a lift attendant in all public and private buildings in which a lift had already been installed and there was a public influx.

National policy was unable to remedy the decrease in oil revenues with the diversification of production activities. The result was the devaluation of the national currency, the collapse of employment, the proposal of severe measures by the International Monetary Fund and a generalized impoverishment with recurring popular uprisings. There was a temporary recovery in the two-year period 2004-2005 (GDP growth of 17.4% and 9.8% respectively), which populist politics was unable to exploit so that the GDP was barely a fifth compared to that of 2013. For critics of the regime it was a long inconclusive populism, incapable of reducing social inequalities through the prudent use of resources.

Pompeo D'Ambrosio (with his daughter Antonella and son Bruno) in 1977, when was vice-president of the main private bank of Venezuela and was responsable -with his brother Mino- of the "Deportivo Italia" (the football team of the italovenezuelans that was considered as the best Venezuelan team of the 20th century, according to the "International Federation of Football History and Education")
After the 1960s, Venezuela began to lose its attractive capacity and the numerical reduction of the Italian community also began, first gradually and then in an increasing manner, it experienced a continuous numerical decrease and in 1999 there were only 61,800 people: in that that year the Italian community was overtaken by the Spanish (133,661) and Portuguese (78,735), which in 1950 were smaller than it. Within the community, which was above average in terms of well-being, cases of hardship and poverty increased, because only higher income classes were protected from it. These are those people who traditionally organize themselves into exclusive clubs, which ensure prestige and professional and entrepreneurial opportunities. As known from recurring news stories, such notoriety comes at the cost of greater exposure to the kidnapping industry.

By virtue of its internal growth, the Italian community in the 2020s is one of the largest on the Latin American continent, around 120 thousand units; the majority of Italians live between Caracas and the regions of Carabobo and Aragua (additionally we must remember that -according to the Italian Embassy in Caracas- nearly two million Venezuelans have roots in italian emigration: the former president Raul Leoni (1964-1969) was the great-greatgrandson of an italian emigrated to Venezuela in the late XVIII century, for example). There are now few Italians who emigrate to Venezuela and, mostly, for a temporary stay: these are NGO workers, journalists and professionals. As has happened in other countries, traditional and regional associations no longer have the attraction of the past and young people are interested in other forms of aggregation.

The Italian community, like the native one, is divided regarding the political regime. The problem arises of showing, with due care, the closeness to a community that is not only formally Italian, but feels its Italianness. The case of Venezuela, in the overall context of post-war migration, represents a significant case for the substantial flows of the two post-war decades, as it was also towards Canada and Australia. The "Venezuelan dream" was motivated by a rapidly expanding country and dissolved with the downsizing of such expectations following the tormented socio-political events of the last thirty years.