Civita, one of the most beautiful villages in Italy, lies in the heart of the Pollino National Park and the Gole del Raganello Nature Reserve. The valley is surrounded by wooded mountains touched by the blue reflections of the Ionian Sea, seen on the horizon.
Deep in a unique but varied natural landscape, Civita is one of the oldest Albanian (Arbëreshë) communities in Italy and a centre well-known for its architecture and natural beauty.
As you walk through the old centre of Civita, you’ll see small houses with an anthropomorphic structure.
When walking through the streets in the village, you can see bizarre-shaped chimney pots and ‘talking houses’. The narrow alleys of the old centre (rughe) move in a circular direction towards the squares, gjitonie in Albanian (a word of Greek origin that can be translated as ‘neighbourhood’), that connect the different urban nuclei. The old districts, with their low houses, cracks in the walls and elderly people sitting in front of their houses, give a picture of times past. In summer, lots of visitors are attracted by the paths of Pollino Park and the chance to take part in sports like canyoning and rafting in the Gole del Raganello Nature Reserve. Civita (Çifti in Arbëreshë) was founded in 1471 on the ruins of a previous town (Castrum Sancti Salvatoris), destroyed by a violent earthquake in 1456, by Albanian families fleeing from the Turks. The town plan of narrow streets and wider spaces and the religious architecture show the succession of cultures that have passed through the village. The churches have an oriental layout - they face east and have the symbols and shapes of Byzantine theology. The services are in Albanian. Civita was one of the first municipalities to set up a Municipal Language Unit to protect the ethnic-linguistic heritage. The ways of dressing, habits and customs, language and religion dating to the old Albanian origins have been preserved intact in remote mountainous regions. The continuous maintenance of historical awareness of the Albanian origins makes an enormous contribution to the preservation of the language. Culturally speaking, the Albanian legacy is a considerable wealth of folklore treasure still jealously preserved by people in the village. In the old centre, in addition to the chapel of Sant’Antonio and the 16th century chapel of Santa Maria della Consolazione, the church of Santa Maria Assunta, built in a Baroque style in the second half of the 16th century, is also worth a visit. It has an oriental layout, looks towards the east and bears the symbols and shapes of Byzantine theology. The Byzantine liturgy is celebrated there because the Albanians of Italy are Catholics following the Greek tradition so there are icons instead of statues in the church.
The chimney pots of Civita, probably dating to a time after 1500, are, in any case, a distinctive trait of each house and have various functions, both real and linked to superstition. In addition to the normal function of channelling smoke from the flues and protection from the strong winds that form among the Pollino mountains, the chimney pots were able to keep evil spirits away according to traditional symbology. This is why they also have such strange shapes, to distinguish them from each other and linked to the whim of the moment and the economic conditions of the families commissioning them. Wealthier families used to have very elaborate chimney pots made that were often true works of art unlike the poorer families, who had simpler chimney pots on their roofs.
As you walk through the old centre of Civita, you’ll see small houses with an anthropomorphic structure. These are the Kodra houses, which get their name from Ibrahim Kodra, an internationally famous Albanian painter who Civita wanted to commemorate after his death in 2006 because these ‘talking’, anthropomorphic houses recall the lines and shapes of his painting. The façade of these houses reminds us of a human face. The door on the ground floor is topped by an external chimney flue, and this is flanked by two small, perfectly identical and symmetrical windows. These represent, respectively, the mouth, nose and eyes of a human face.
Just as in many centres with Arbëreshë roots, Civita is clearly attached to its traditions. Many aspects of life in the village recall the glorious traditions of the old country which have been handed down from generation to generation. These include the Vallje, with considerable folklore impact. For the Arbëreshë, the word ‘Valle’ means the ‘ridda’, the only dance of the Albanian choreographic heritage still faithful to the original tradition. The Civita ridda is a type of dance with a sustained, proud rhythm which can still be seen in the dances of the people from the mountains of Dukagini, the Albanian mountains, the Rugova, the mountainous region of Kosovo, and Epirus (Greece). According to tradition, this festival recalls a very important historical event for the Arbëreshë - the victory of Giorgio Castriota Skanderbeg over the large Turkish army which took place on a Tuesday after Easter. This event is celebrated for three days to commemorate it. According to history, the movements of the ridda during the dance represent the encirclement technique used by Skanderbeg against the Turkish army. As the vallja moves, it imprisons non-local people (the Turks) in its spirals and they are freed after paying a symbolic ransom, in this situation, the offer of alcoholic drink and cakes and sweets. In this way, the Arbëreshe population remains ideally connected to its epic past and, in this particular celebration, strengthens ethnic principles to keep the community compact. Everyone is involved in the celebration, not just watching the vallja but taking part, becoming a leading player in it.
The Devil’s Bridge, over the Raganello, is a bold engineering work, an excellent observation point and is now one of the main attractions of Civita and symbol of the Pollino National Park. As a result of the impassable point where it arises and the scarce means of the past, popular imagination called it the work of the devil, to whom the building of works considered impossible was often attributed in past times. Documentation has recently been found that certifies that the bridge was built or rebuilt around 1840 by a consortium of municipalities so that the chasm of the Raganello could be crossed.
The Devil's Stone
The ‘devil’s stone’ is an impressive 800-metre wall of layered pink rock which enchants those who see it for the first time.
Wine and Food
The local wine and food is naturally a mix of Arbëreshë traditions and typical Pollino cuisine. The old culture and ability plus quality raw materials and the many aromatic herbs available in the area offer tasty dishes, such as homemade pasta seasoned with kid sauce, ham and coppa (a cut of cold meat), soft cheese, gnocchetti with sheep’s ricotta, fettuccine (pasta ribbons) with porcini mushrooms and lamb and kid in the Civita manner, accompanied by wine from Pollino.
Piazza Municipio, Civita
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