History of Arabs in Calabria 'positive example for today'

Dr Loiacono speaks at EGIC. Image: EGIC.

ROME – The surprising diversity and peaceful co-existence of Arab and European people was the central topic of discussion on Friday evening, during a presentation by award-winning historian, Antonio Maurizio Loiacono, as part of the Euro-Gulf Information Centre’s series “Lessons from History.”

 The series is designed to foster discussion of relations between Europe and the Arabian Gulf and to ask if the region’s past provides clues to its present.

 Dr Loiacono’s recently published book "Storia degli Arabi in Calabria," paints a fascinating picture of the presence of Arabs in Southern Italy between the ninth and eleventh centuries, both in their conquest of coastal cities and the cultural and economic life of the period.

 As EGIC’s moderators, Cinzia Bianco and Leone Radiconcini, explained during the event, Dr Loiacono’s work is valuable in the way it challenges the dominant narrative of conflict between Muslim and Christian worlds and complicates our current understanding of Italian identity.

 In a wide-ranging discussion and debate, listeners heard of how the presence of Arabs in the region helped the flow of commerce and ideas between East and West and, likewise, how many Arabic words live on in the places and names of Calabria.

 Even at the heart of many Christian cities in the region, Dr Loiacono stressed, one could find thriving Arab communities and mosques publicly calling for prayer. 

 Speaking to the Insider after the event, the historian noted that the “enormous distance between the central caliphate in Baghdad and the other emirates meant that wherever Arab conquest and expansion took place there were contacts with all different kinds of cultures from Sicily to Palestine all the way to the Spanish Emirate in Andalucía.”

 “Therefore, in each circumstance the emirate took on the different characteristics of the culture it was getting close to.”

 But the story also has resonances for the present-day relationship of Calabria to the wider nation of Italy. The region is often ignored by the Italian government, considered to be culturally backward and significant only for the presence of the mafia.

 Dr Loiacono, born in Reggio Calabria, was keen to dispel that preconception, explaining instead that “the neglect of Calabrian history has been reflected in a wider neglect of the region as a whole.”

 “There’s never been a cultural issue. The problem in itself is the economic neglect of the region. But this book provides evidence of how Calabria was a centre of excellency for many things such as fine arts and other intercultural exchanges." A history that he hoped would "provide a positive example for integration these days.”