The hidden “Greece” of Southern Italy

Greek
    © Lato / Credit: T. Zacharis

Grico“: the Greek dialect of South Italy.

How possible is to hear Greek outside of Greece?
Ultimately, it seems not so unlikely!
The town of Castrignano dei Greci, as its name reveals, is located in Italy, south of the city Lecce. The strange thing is that its inhabitants speak a Greek dialect, which is called “Grico” or South-Italian. It is said that it has been created by Cretans, at the era of the Minoan Civilization.

The historical background behind “Grico“.

On the basis of what we know from history, this would not be impossible since the 8th century BC, Sicily and the wider area of South Italy was the most famous field for the colonial politics of ancient Greece. And the name that was used for these colonies was “Magna Graecia” ( “Great Greece”).
According to mythology, the first Greeks came to Salento after the fall of Troy, led by the legendary king of Crete, Idomeneas. Of course, the theories that have been expressed by Italians and Greek linguists are many more.

Who are the speakers of “Grico”?

The Grecians (Graikanoi) as they are called today – live in nine settlements (Calimera, Castrignano dei Greci, Corigliano d’Otranto, Martano, Martignano, Soleto, Sternatia, Zollino and Melpignano) which as a unity are called “Grecia Salentina” and they characteristically say that they are Italians in nationality but Greeks at heart.

Their customs and traditions, their music, and especially their dialect are what makes the inhabitants of these regions different from the rest of the Italians.
Until the Second World War, the residents spoke only Grico and the dialect was maintained through oral tradition. However, it is certain that the dialect was rescued thanks to the Italian philologist Angelo Cotardo, who passionately taught it and gave a real fight to keep it in the wider area.  In 1977 was established the Centre for Social Studies, which continued his work.
In 1999 the Italian parliament recognized the Graikaniki community of Salento as “Greek national and linguistic minority” and Grico as a minority language.

Why to visit the Greek-speaking villages of Italy.

The visitor, beyond the special experience he will gain after his visit to the Greek-speaking villages of Apulia, can visit the restored crypt of St. Onoufrios, located in Castrignano dei Greci. There he can admire the unique hagiographies and see a Greek inscription with the chronological mark 1237. Also, the use of the name Kantiotis, originating in the Greek “Kantia” (a name that the Venetians used for Heraklion of Crete) is not something that can remain unnoticed.

Whatever your opinion about Greek can be, is sure that after your visit to Greece, this experience would broaden your mind./

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                                  Lato,
Het Griekse Taal– & CultuurCentrum van Amsterdam