Cultural Institute, founded in 1979, is an office of the Italian Ministry of
Foreign Affairs - Department for Cultural Promotion and Cooperation.
promotes Italian language and culture in Scotland and Northern Ireland and
cooperates with local Institutions and Universities and serves as well as a
gathering point for the Italian community.
promotes academic exchanges, organises arts exhibitions, sponsors the
translation of Italian books, supports various events on literature, music,
sciences, dance, film, design, fashion, theatre, cuisine, architecture,
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and countrymen, lend me your spears, we need some help
widely acknowledged that the Romans reached Scottish shores
around 50AD, but they never fully conquered Scotland as the grit and
determination of Picts, Scots and Celts proved more than a match for
their advanced technology and tactics.
Remains of Roman forts, the final frontier of the empire remain
north of Dunblane in what is known as Gask Ridge. It is believed
that as a result of the Roman withdrawal in 400AD Scotland identity
began to take shape.
It wasn't until the mid 18th
century that the next batch of Italians began to arrive in numbers, most of them
artists, musicians and merchants. There even is an accredited
Scots/Italian style of
music from this period,
one of the most famous protagonists being James Oswald (1710-1769)
appointed court composer to George III in 1761.
Some Italian musicians of the time such as Domenico Corri and
Francesco Barsanti who complete with all the formal training
came to Scotland and excelled. (Check out the
Musica Scotica website for early music).
The greatest discovery never to have happened?
Some of you may have heard of the
mysterious tale of the
Zeno brothers believed to have blown off course during the 14th
century whilst searching for El Dorado and landed in Orkney. These
pioneering Venetian sailors were taken under the wing of Henry Sinclair,
Earl of Orkney who appointed one of the brothers Nicolo as commander of the
Fleet. Charts and maps that appeared in 1558 appeared to detail that the
brothers had sailed west in 1392 from the Orkneys to Greenland onto Nova
Scotia and finally onto the Eastern seaboard of what is now the United
States. Some believe they were hiding the treasures of the Knights Templar.
All this 100 years
before Columbus was supposed to have discovered America.
However there is evidence
against the authenticity of the map, based largely on the appearance of
many non-existent islands in the North Atlantic and off the coast of
James Oswald (1710-1769)
Remains of a Roman house
Romans defeated on British soil (7-1)
Picts were dominant in Britain for over
Bonnie Prince Charlie, born in Rome in
Saltarello, typical of the Ciociara
region is danced to accordions
Brattisani's, open for over 100 years
Gothic Line near Prato
Come and join me as
we travel in time and examine how Italians have featured in Scotland
through the ages....
Scotland (Caledonia) was the
Empire's furthest flung outpost yet it was never fully conquered.
Agricola, the Roman governor of Britannia managed to secure much of the
south in AD83 though encountered stiff opposition from the Caledonian Tribes
and the equally unforgiving landscape and conditions. Indeed it was Calgacus,
the leader of the Ancient Picts of
in light of the Roman presence who announced 'We are the last
people on earth, the last to be free." In 84AD an estimated 10,000
Caledonians were lain to the sword in the Battle of Mons Graupius at
Bennachie by the marching Roman Army and Cavalry, who relied on tactics and
cunning to win, they needed to, they were outnumbered four to one.
Picts (from Pictii - painted ones) never gave up though and fighting
was so intense that in 121AD that during Emperor
reign a wall 73 miles long was built that bore his name. Around 142AD
further defences in the north between the Clyde and Forth were required and
the Romans built the smaller
In 212AD Roman Citizenship was extended to all free
inhabitants of the Empire, though in 476AD after the sacking of Rome and
massive opposition from the the Germanic Tribes in Saxony, Britain was told
to defend itself.
The Romans left Caledonia before this though around 410AD - nearly
360 years since they first landed on British soil. Much of this was due to
the resistance from the Pict and Celtic tribespeople, whose persistence
finally paid off. However the remnants of this extended stay was that a
distinct Romano-British flavour influenced descendants.
From the 1700's
One of Scotland's favourite sons Bonnie Prince
Charlie, was born in Rome in 1720.
Perhaps some lessons were learnt from Roman
times as only a
trickle of Italians came to Scotland thereafter, and it wasn't until the early
1800's that a significant number began to return! Those that did were mostly artists, merchants or musicians.
During this period it was musicians that were
prominent throughout the musical societies of Scotland. This was mostly down
to the energetic
Scottish melodies and dance with the Italian
influence becoming standard fare in musical circles.
Late 1800's to World War II
However the greatest influx of Italians to
Scotland can be traced back to the late 19th Century as many escaped famine
and corruption in their homelands for the brighter prospects offered abroad.
The first settlers were known as Ciociari from the
Ciociaria region located
in southern Lazio.
Perhaps a few of you have heard of the tale
that some of the Italians who landed in Scotland initially mistook it for
New York. There is no real basis for this and I suspect it may just be a
shaggy dog story, but a good yarn nonetheless.
Fresh off the boat they would sell their wares
in the port, anything from humble statuettes to blocks of ice. Many remained in
the port cities of Glasgow, Greenock and Edinburgh, opening shops there. With
dairy produce and seafood in abundance it wasn't long before ice cream serving
Fish 'n Chip shops began to sprout.
As early as 1891 there were business loans
available to Scotsitalians through the Societa di Mutto Soccorso.
There was even for a short spell in 1908 an Italian language newspaper, La
Scozia on sale in Glasgow and the Societa Dante Aligheri discussed
cultural topics at the time.
One of Scotland's most successful Italian
families were the Giuliani's who by the late 19th century owned shops all
across Glasgow. Indeed they expanded through an early means of franchising.
Employees originally brought over from Italy were then sold the premises,
paying week by week towards the total cost of the business.
However, it wasn't until the First World War
that a sizeable Italian community, over 4,000 in fact began to emerge in
Scotland, with Glasgow housing the third largest community in Great Britain.
Many left their family behind initially with a view to bringing them over
once a job and housing had been secured. However this flow eased off with
the introduction of the Aliens Order Act which limited the number of
immigrants to the UK.
Unlike many other communities, the Italian's
soon diffused across the whole of Scotland rather than focus on any
particular area. Much of this was to do with the need to accommodate
expanding families and new arrivals from Italy. As many of them worked in
businesses owned by Italians there was little threat to native workers. Fish
and chip shops sprung up from Stranraer to Wick.
Edinburgh layed claim
to being the oldest operational chip shop in Scotland, open since 1889 but
alas closed down in 2004.
Before the advent of the Second World War
many Italians were now second or even third generation and were developing a
culture all of their own.
Italy and the Fascist involvement in World
War Two brought many hardships - families were separated as adult males were
interned and the remaining family members who were left to run dilapidated
businesses had to cope with mistrust and persecution.
Of those imprisoned many were held on the
Isle of Man and Northern Ireland, some were even shipped off to Australia
and Canada. A number met their fate on the last tragic journey of
the Arandora Star whilst others created
the wonderfully ornate chapel on
Some managed to escape back to Italy, my
grandfather made it back to Barga the day before international relations
between the UK and Italy were suspended. (Incidentally, the town was located on the
Line - an area fiercely contested between Allied and German troops,
so much so that today some buildings still sport the bullet holes. He
was one of many that assisted retreating British Prisoner of Wars by sharing
supplies despite the very real threat to their lives.)
Post World War II to the present
Perhaps as a result of the trauma that
caused, the period that followed was one of a greater understanding and need
for a certain degree of assimilation for Italians living in Scotland.
Marriages between the two became more commonplace and the traditional
backdrop of the fish and chip business began to slowly disappear as more and
more Scotsitalians drifted into other professions.
A sizeable minority of Scotsitalians felt
that they had no choice but to leave Scotland shortly after the war. In
essence they were to re-emigrate, with most heading for the 'lucky
country', Australia. There is an article called
I'm From Planet Earth which appears in the
Heritage website of NSW, recounted by Michael Arrighi, Phd. In it he
discusses his experiences as young boy growing up in Scotland - with parents
of Italian extraction - and how World War 2 impacted on his
"origins" when Italians were not the flavour of the day, and also
having to cope in adulthood on becoming a 'New Australian'.
Emigration to Scotland from Italy almost
stopped after the War, visas were harder to come by and many chose to assist
in the rebuilding of France and Belgium. As had been the case before the
War, the USA and Australia were equally popular destinations. There
was a small blip during the early 1950's however as the Duke of Argyll
called on a number of foresters from the Barga region to work in his estate
Where exactly in the old country are we from?
Many of today's Scotsitalians can
trace their history directly back to the mass migration of the late
1800's where their forefathers escaped famine, drought and poverty
in their homeland for a better life in this country.
A curious fact is that the majority of
Scotsitalians can trace their roots back to just six distinct areas.
It is believed that almost 70% of
Scotsitalians can trace their roots back to just the two regions of Tuscany and
number of areas of origin, coupled with the fact that unlike the
rest of the UK, Scotland experienced very little post war
migration from Italy, may explain the close links that
Scotsitalians have retained with these communities.
Today there are an estimated
80,000 Scots of Italian
descent living in Scotland and according to the Scottish Office almost
10,000 of those are registered to vote in Italian Elections.
Tuscany (mainly from the Province of Lucca
- especially the Barga and Garfagnana)
Lazio (mainly from the Province of Frosinone - especially Picinisco)
Molise (mainly from the Province of Isernia)
Ligure (mainly from the Province of
Campania (mainly post war period)
Borgotaro (mainly from
the Province of Parma)
As a rule of thumb it seems
that most of those from Tuscan origins settled in the Glasgow
area and most of those from Lazio in the Edinburgh vicinity.