Why do they speak Catalan in Alghero, Sardinia?

One of the many expressions of the enormous Italian cultural heritage is the linguistic diversity of the peninsula and the islands. In the city of Algheroa well-known tourist destination in the Sardinia in the province of Sassari, for almost 700 years it is also spokenAlgheresea dialect of the Catalan language. The reason for this linguistic peculiarity can be found in the history of the city and the island. Let’s delve deeper into this history and understand why Catalan is spoken in Sardinia.

How Alghero Became Catalan

During the Middle AgesSardinia was at the centre of complex territorial issues. Various European powers sought to extend their dominion or influence over the island, and between the 14th and 15th centuries Sardinia found itself in a state of perpetual war. On one side there was the Judge of Arboreawhich intended to maintain its autonomy, while on the other hand there were the two Maritime Republics of Pisa and Genoaand the Kingdom of Aragonwith its capital Barcelona and Catalan culture. These four states faced each other for a century, making and breaking alliances. It is during this long conflict that the historical event occurred that made Alghero a Catalan linguistic island in Sardinia.

Alghero was founded between the 12th and 13th centuries from the Genoese, more precisely from the noble family Doriaone of the most important and influential families in the history of the Ligurian maritime republic. During the war between Genoa and Pisa at the end of the 13th century, Alghero changed hands several times, until the final Genoese victory.

At the beginning of 14th centurythey entered the island Aragonesewho defeated the Pisans and took over the most important Sardinian city, Cagliari. In the following years, Aragon, Arborea, Genoa and Pisa faced each other in a war bloody for the domination over Sardinia.

The Kingdom of Aragon, already quite strong at sea, allied itself with Genoa’s most bitter enemy, namely VeniceThe very powerful combined Catalan-Venetian fleet defeated the Genoese one near Alghero, and in the summer of 1353 the Aragonese took over the city. At the time the Catalans entered Alghero, the population of the city was of Sardinian and Ligurian origin, and on the part of the crown of Aragon at this time there was no intention of implementing an ethnic substitution.

Things changed the following year. In fact, the Doria, aided by Pisa and the Giudicato of Arborea, managed to retake the city, which had rebelled against the Catalans. The king of Aragon, Peter IVhe raised a new army, with which in 1354 surrounded Alghero. After a few months of siege, the Aragonese were in difficulty and, starting from a position of strength, the Giudicato of Arborea proposed to start negotiations. The judge of Arborea Mariano IV and the king of Aragon Peter IV signed the “Peace of Alghero” in which the Sardinians achieved notable diplomatic success. Alghero would have been sold to the Catalanswho in exchange would have had to respect the total autonomy of Arborea. Judge Mariano IV would also have had a say in the politics of the Aragonese territories in Sardinia.

From this moment on Alghero would remain a dominion of the crown of Aragon for centuries. Once back in the city, the Catalans chose to adopt a policy that had already been applied after the conquest of Cagliari, that is, the ethnic substitution. In the following years in fact, Peter IV, to avoid the population rebelling again, decided to expel the Sardinians and Ligurians from the city. The king of Aragon then encouraged a repopulation of Alghero with people from Catalonia or Valenciawho moved to the city also thanks to the economic incentives promoted by the king. Within a few years the ethnic substitution was complete.


L’algueresthe Catalan of Alghero

Surrounded by a Sardinian-speaking territory, the new Catalan-speaking Algheresi maintained a strong cohesion and linguistic unity for years, in contrast to the island identity of the outskirts and the countryside. Over time, this language has remained isolated compared to the Catalan of Catalonia and has maintained many peculiarities of the medieval languagecompared to the original mother tongue that has evolved over the centuries. Furthermore, an ever-increasing influx of Sardinian and Italian speakers to Alghero in the following centuries has included within the Algherese Catalan dialect words of other origin.

Like most of the regional or minority languages ​​of Italy, Algherese began a recession period starting from the second post-war period, in favor of Sardinian first and then Italian. In the early 2000s only the 20% of the population of Alghero used Algherese as their first language, a percentage concentrated in the historic center and among the older people.

In response to the risk of losing a cultural specificity of the territory, it was decided to safeguard the Catalan dialect by giving it the official language statusfirst by the Sardinia Region in 1997 and then by the Italian state in 1999. In this way, an attempt was made to protect the language by promoting its teaching and use.

Thanks to the collaboration of various cultural institutions and the interest of the Generalitat of Cataloniathe autonomous government of Catalonia in Spain, the Algherese would seem to be in light recovery and in general the population of the city shows interest in maintaining its linguistic identity. In order to try to keep the language alive among the new generations, who increasingly prefer the use of Italian, the municipality of Alghero has included in 2023 the possibility of teaching Algherese at schooland some data provided by a survey by the Department of Culture of the Generalitat of Catalonia of 2015 seem to be comforting, with 30% of the population able to express themselves fluently in Algherese, and more than double the amount, 72%, able to understand it.