It is believed that there are around 60,000 Croatians living in Italy, around half of whom live in the vicinity of Trieste. Most of them moved to the area after World War II, for economic reasons. For a number of Croatians who had left for Italy at the time by various means, it was merely a country through which they were passing on their way to various other destinations.
The most famous Croatian community in Italy are the Molise Croats, located in the province of Molise, some hundred kilometers away from Pescara. There are around 2,000 of them spread over three villages today. One of them is called Mundimitar (Montemitro), another is known as Filič (San Felice), and the last one is Kruč (Acquaviva Collecroce). This alone is proof enough that they, living among the hills, managed to preserve their language, which they brought with them from the 16th century, fleeing the Turks, from the Croatian coasts of the Adriatic, or as they themselves put it, s one bane mora. Numerous localities along the Molise bear Croatian names, for example Selo (village in Croatian), Izer (lake) and others, and the signs in the area are bilingual. A stone near the church of St. Lucia bears the following inscription:
Za ne zabit ko bihmo. Za znat ko jesmo.
(Not to forget who we were,
To know who we are.)
Near the church of St. Lucia at the Selo locality near Mundimitar
Mundimitar, bilingual signs
Makarska Street in Mundimitar
In 2009, a monument was erected in Mundimitar in honor of the visit of Stjepan Mesić, the president of the Republic in Croatia at the time.
Molise, Kruč – bilingual sign
Vasto is a town of some 40,000 residents, located along the coast in the Abruzzo province, which borders with Molise, and is the town to which most Croats from Molise’s villages gravitate. The following street names are used in Vasto; Dalmacia, Ragusa, Zara, Sebenico, Lesina, and Braca.
The Maria Santissima del Carmine church was built in the 17th century over the foundations of the San Nicola degli Schiavoni church from 1362. There was a rather large Croatian colony there at the time, and it is believed that they were the ones who built the church. In the baroque, overflowing building, an altar dedicated to St. Nikola from Slavonia is preserved.
The number of Croatian families in Vasto diminished over time, and there were already as few as fifty by 1522, which were later completely assimilated. However, family names of Croatian origin still remained; Stanisci, Schiavone, Di Spalatro, Spalatino, Marcovecchio, Besca, Bracone, Bucchicchio, Busico, Lalli, Matassa, Mattiaccio, Miri, Miscione, Peca, Radoccia, Rosica, Santicchia, Silla, Suriani, Tenisci, and Teti.
The church of Maria Santissima del Carmine in Vasto
Blueprint of the church and altar dedicated to St. Nikola
And in the north of Italy, in Venice, the greater part of the Venetian port, located near the square of St. Mark and the center of political power, bears the title Riva dei Schiavoni, i.e. Croatian coast. It got its name from Croatians from the eastern coast of the Adriatic, who would, at the time of the Venetian Republic (from the 9th up until the 18th century), moor their ships in the area and sell their wares.
Canaletto (1697 – 1768): Riva dei Schiavoni in the 18th century
People from Split, walking along the Croatian boulevard in Venice; Dina and Marino Borčić (courtesy of the Borčić family)
Rome has always been attractive for Croatians, owing largely to the fact that the seat of the Catholic Church resides there. It was back in the 15th century, at the request of a priest named Jeronimo, from Potomje on Pelješac, that pope Nikola V gave the society of devoted Croatians the dilapidated church of St. Marina on the left coast of Tiber. They also gained permission to build a hospital and accommodations there. The Croatians rebuilt the church and dedicated it to St. Jerome of Dalmatia, from Stridon. Pope Sexto V had a new church built from its foundations, which was completed in 1599, and still exists today. Alongside the church there is also the Department of St. Jerome, where Croatian priests on their post-graduate studies reside. In the church, mass is held in Croatian.
The Department and church of St. Jerome in Rome (author’s personal collection)
A performance by the Croatian Folk Theather in the church of St. Jerome in Rome, 2005. The picture shows Milan Lakoš in the middle.