Corfiot Italians - Maltese Italians in Corfu

Maltese Italians in Corfu

A large community of descendants of Maltese Italians is still present in Corfu. Their forebears came to the island during the 19th century, when the British authorities brought many skilled workers from Malta to the Ionian Islands. The British needed married men so that their work would be continued by their children, and as a consequence 80 people (40 families from 1815 until 1860) were transported to Corfu, whose descendants remain on the island today.

In 1901, there were almost one thousand people in Corfu who considered themselves to be ethnic Maltese. In Cephalonia the number was 225. There were another hundred Maltese spread among the other lesser islands of the Ionian Group. Maltese emigration to these islands practically ceased when they were returned to Greece in 1864. Because of the union with Greece, a number of Maltese families abandoned Corfu and settled in Cardiff, Wales, where their descendants still live.

In Corfu, two villages on the island bear names testifying to Maltese presence: Maltezika is named after Malta and Cozzella got its name from Gozo. In Cozzella the Franciscan Sisters of Malta opened a convent and a school in 1907. Those two institutions still flourish. In 1923, there were some 1,200 ethnic Maltese in Corfu, but many of them spoke either Greek or the local Corfiot dialect, which still bore traces of the Venetian occupation of the island. Because of this Venetian connection, Fascist propagandists tried to build up an irredentist case for Corfu. Guido Puccio wrote in "Tribuna", a leading Roman newspaper on 12 September 1923, that the Maltese element in Corfu could be used as an instrument to further Italian claims on that island.

In 1930, the Maltese in Corfu had their own priest who looked after their welfare while he kept useful contacts with the ecclesiastical and civil authorities in Malta. That priest was the Rev. Spiridione Cilia, who had been born in Corfu of Maltese parents and became the parish priest of the Maltese community.

The Corfiot Maltese community currently numbers 3,500 people in the entire island. They constitute the center of the Catholic community of Corfu, but not one among continues to speaks the Maltese language. The former mayor of the city of Corfu, Sotiris Micalef, is of Maltese descent.

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