The village is located on the hills surrounding the Sila plateau and the plain of Sibari. The town centre expands around the Town Hall building and benefits from one of the most picturesque views of northern Calabria: on one side you can admire the peaks of the Pollino mountain range and on the other side the Ionian Sea and its endless beaches stretch out before you. The panoramic view of the red earthen hills of the olive groves and vineyards is also a sight to behold.
Architecturally-speaking, the old town centre reflects the welcoming atmosphere and the social attitude that is typical of Albanian communities. The houses are built around a square, known as a shesi, whereas the heart of the urban structure is called the gjitonia.
This complex urban layout perfectly complements the residents’ social lives and facilitates interactions between the locals and the sharing of knowledge and skills. Visitors may be able to see neighbours sitting together on the steps chatting or making precious local handicrafts. Some of the town’s buildings feature prime examples of typical arbëreshë architecture such as impressive mouldings on the entrances of noble buildings and circular attic windows.
The parish church dedicated to Saint George the Megalomartyr is located just a stone’s throw from the old monastery church and was built in a 1700s baroque style. It has three naves and is flanked by two Italian-Greek style chapels and an imposing bell tower topped by a Byzantine style spire.
Originally built in Roman style in accordance with the church obligations imposed by the relevant bishops, after the creation of the Eparchy of Lungro the Church was gradually adapted to the needs of the Byzantine tradition thanks to various restoration works supported by the parish priests.
In recent decades, the restoration work has produced impressive results and the Church is now considered one of the best examples of how Byzantine liturgical requirements can be integrated into a structure that was originally built according to the canons of the Roman tradition.
The interior houses numerous wooden statues dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries, including of the Madonna del Rosario, San Giorgio Martire, Santa Lucia, San Francesco di Paola, Angels holding the Madonna of Shkodra and a Crucifix.
In San Giorgio Albanese, many of the local residents still wear traditional Albanian clothing and continue to practise rites from previous generations.
The traditional clothing of San Giorgio Albanese is different from that of other Arbëreshë communities as it includes a pandera, a kind of unique belt.
Festive wedding parties. Whilst the bride's friends prepare the colourful wedding dress, two choirs with alternating voices warn the bride of the pitfalls she may find in her path, begging her to tolerate an intrusive mother-in-law or the jealousies of relatives. When the bride is ready, the guests enter the church where the most evocative and sacred ceremony, known as “il pàpas” takes place. During the ceremony, the traditional Greek-Byzantine priest offers wine to the bride and groom in a glass which is then crushed against the ground. The couple then place and replace wreaths of flowers on each other’s heads three times whilst alternately crossing them over.
They then move around the altar together three times. The ceremony ends in a festive jubilation, in which guests can enjoy traditional Albanian dances and songs and the colours of the traditional clothing of San Giorgio Albanese.
The cuisine of San Giorgio Albanese consists of traditional arbёreshë dishes and desserts combined with dishes from the Calabrian culinary heritage.
The undisputed star is the homemade pasta. One must-try food is rrashkatjeltё, which are made of a simple mixture of water and flour which is then rolled around an iron stick. They are served with goat meat sauce and seasoned with local grated pecorino cheese.
Even today, the traditional, artisanal methods of bread-making continue to flourish. The local homemade bread, as well as the pittas, frese and taralli, are exported to most of the Italian regions.
In terms of traditional desserts, viskotinet, which is specially prepared for arbëreshë weddings, is well worth trying. At Christmas, xhurxhullena and qinullilet, crescent-shaped sweets filled with mustard, and krustulit, dough kneaded with eggs, wine, and oil, are prepared.
Whereas kuleçtë, circular-shaped cakes with boiled eggs, and riganelet, shortcrust pastry filled with raisins, walnuts, and almonds, are mainly eaten during the Easter period.