Armenians in Italy have had a presence since ancient Roman. Justinian’s Armenian general Narses, after successfully annexing most of Italy to the Byzantine Empire, was appointed governor of Italy in 555. Later, in the 9th-10th centuries, a numbers of Armenians moved to Italy from Thrace and Macedonia. They were the descendants of Paulicians chased from Armenia by the Emperor Constantine.
Armenian communities, were formed in Italy in the 12th-13th centuries when active trade was flourishing between Cilician Armenia and Italian big city-republics as Genoa, Venice and Pisa. Under Cilician Armenian king Levon II (1187–1219) (also known as King Leo II of Armenia), treaties were signed between the two parties, according to which Italian merchants had the right to open factories and to develop industrial activities in the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia and Armenian merchants could do the same in Italian towns.
In the 13th century the number of Armenians in Italy increased because of the new wave of emigrants after the invasion of Tatars and Mongols. Leonardo da Vinci made drawings of Armenians living in Italy.
Armenian churches have been built in Italy since the 12th century. In the 13th and 14th centuries, more than 40 churches and monasteries under the Armenian Apostolic Church were mentioned in the northern, central and southern regions of Italy, particularly in Venice, Trieste, Ravenna, Genoa, Rome, and Naples. There are references to the title “Armenian Bishop” since the 14th century. The Armenian communities of Italy each had their own pastors, priests, and monks who were led by archbishops or bishops as dioceses or community states. Hospitals and guest houses operated near the Armenian churches, where Armenian merchants were cared for.
The Armenian Apostolic Church of St. Gregory the Illuminator has been operating in Naples since the
10th century. Celebrations of St. Gregory continue in his honor. His relics are kept in the in the
Catholic Church “San Gregorio Armeno”. The Catholicos of All Armenians, Karekin II, transferred some of the relics to the Mother See during his visit to the Vatican (11/11/2000). Currently the relics are kept in the vestibule of the St. Gregory the Illuminator Cathedral in Yerevan. Other churches mentioned are the Church of the Holy Spirit in Naples, built in 1328. St. Jacob’s Church in Rome built in the 10th century.
In the 11th Century, construction of St. Barsegh Church in Milan is mentioned. From 1342 to 1650 the Barseghyan Congregation functioned. An Armenian printing house was established next to the Ambrosian Library in Milan, where the first book of the Armenian-Latin dictionary was printed in 1621. During 1925 to 1932 an orphanage-college for the children, survivors of the Armenian Genocide, was established in Milano by the Mekhitarist Congregation. In 1968, at the Polytechnic Institute of Milan, a center for the Study of Armenian Medieval Architecture was established.
A monastic complex was founded in the city of Pisa (1320), which according to the obituary has belonged to the Armenians for centuries. Rare manuscripts have been copied from this temple and are still preserved in the National Library of Vienna and the Ambrosian Library of Milan. The convent and church of St. Bartholomew, built by Armenians in Genoa in 1307 and lasted until 1650, are known for the Holy Face of Genoa (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image_of_Edessa).
During 15th and 16th centuries, there was a well-organized Armenian community in Venice. During those centuries Armenians imported cotton, silk, salt, raisins, wheat, copper, etc. to Venice. There were also a considerable number of Armenians who were working in shipyards and some were gifted craftsman. The first Armenian book was printed in Venice by Hakob Meghapart in 1512. There is also mention of St. John the Baptist Church and Monastery in Venice, as well as the Church of the Holy Cross, built in 1434 which belongs to the Mekhitarist Congregation on St. Lazarus Island in Venice, starting from 1717. The Mekhitarist Congregation exists today with its monastery, library, manuscripts depository and a publishing house. Two streets in Venice are bearing Armenian names, Ruga Giuffa (Julfa Street), and Sotoportego dei Armeni (Passage of the Armenians). In Livorno, there are also streets with Armenian names.
At the end of the 14th century, religious persecution took place in Italy, and all Armenian churches came under the control of local Catholic institutions.
The Armenian community under the auspices of the current Armenian Apostolic Church in Italy was formed in 1900 by the Armenian immigrants from Turkey and the Middle East, who settled in Milan, other cities and communities in northern Italy.
On the eve of World War II, the Armenian Union was formed and approved by the Italian government.
In the early 1950s, religious services were held at the Anglican Church of All Saints in Milan. In 1995, by order of the President of Italy, the Italian authorities accepted the activities of the Armenian faithful and officially authorized the construction of the Armenian Apostolic Church. In 1957 the Church of 40 Martyrs was built in Milan and consecrated in 1958.