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The Italian Cultural Institute, founded in 1979, is an office of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs - Department for Cultural Promotion and Cooperation.

The Institute 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.

The Institute 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, photography, etc



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Friends, Romans and countrymen, lend me your spears, we need some help here.............

It is 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 Iceland.



George III

James Oswald (1710-1769)


Hadrian's Wall

Remains of a Roman house



Zeno Map











Ai ai ai

Romans defeated on British soil (7-1)




Picts were dominant in Britain for over 500 years






Bonnie Prince Charlie, born in Rome in 1720








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....


Roman Times

  • Scotland (Caledonia) was the Roman 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 Caledonia 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. 


  • The Picts (from Pictii - painted ones) never gave up though and fighting was so intense that in 121AD that during Emperor Hadrian's 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  Antonine Wall.


  • 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. Brattisani's in 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 distinct 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 Orkney.


  • 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 Gothic 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 day

  • Perhaps as a result of the trauma that WWII 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 But I'm From Planet Earth which appears in the Migration 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 at Inveraray.

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 Lazio. 

These limited 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 La Spezia)

  • Campania (mainly post war period)

  • Valdotaro and 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.

For more information on Italian clubs in Scotland try the Comitato Coordinamento Associazioni Italiane in Scozia  (C.O.C.A.I.S.)








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