Cobblestone paths meander among rustic stone houses that follow one another till they get to the watch tower. In this place, halfway between memories and legends, each glimpse conveys the traditions of the ancient Waldensian-Occitan culture.
Guardia Piemontese is rightly called "guardia" due to its highly strategic position in the Calabrian coast, with a watch tower as part of a coastal defence system that grew to become a city. The stone watch tower still stands today as a sentinel, visible from the underlying beaches.
The village has the appearance of a manger with low stone houses and narrow streets. Visitors’ first impression is as if they had travelled back in time to the Middle Ages and this feeling is reinforced as they stand in front of an old stone door where the words Porta del sangue (Gate of Blood) and Piazza dei Valdesi are written. The town's origins date back to the XII century from a colony of refugees of the Waldensian church that left the province of Turin in order to escape persecution by the inquisition. Following the outbreak of the Protestant Reformation, the Waldensians of Calabria also began to preach freely, but a repression soon broke out. In 1561 Guardia was destroyed and in eleven days 2,000 people were killed and 1,600 ended on nearby mountains. Blood trickled down in streams throughout the town finding an outlet in the large gate, that since then is known as the "Porta del sangue” (Gate of Blood).
Another peculiar feature of the village are doors with peep-holes, that allowed the priests to look inside and keep an eye on converted Waldensians who lived in certain parts of the town. Some of these doors are still visible around the city and one is displayed in the Museo Valdese (Waldensian Museum) that tells the story of this persecuted minority.
Waldensian influence is reflected especially in the language, which is a mutated version of Occitan due to the passing of time and local influences. Guardia is Southern Italy’s only enclave of Occitan language, so much so that linguists and scholars study "Guardiol" and every August a festival is held as a tribute to this language.
In addition to its natural beauty, the village is solely known for being a linguistic island in Southern Italy. Occitan, also called an alpine Provençal language, is a Romance language spoken in a specific area of southern Europe called Occitania, not delimited by political boundaries and identified more or less with southern France.
Between the XII and the XIII century, a group of Waldensian refugees from Piedmont, fleeing religious persecution during the period of the counter-reformation, chose these hills looking for a quieter life. From that moment onwards, they lived, and generations flourished during three centuries in their new homeland.
A large part of Guardia’s population was exterminated by the vast bloody crusade launched against the Waldensians by the Catholic Church, who accused them of heresy. The city’s main gate is called Porta del Sangue (Gate of Blood) and commemorates a terrible night of murders during which hundreds of people were killed on 5 June 1561.
The tourist development of Guardia Piemontese, such as that of the neighbouring town of Acquappesa , is linked to the birth of the Terme Luigiane, situated in the wide valley of the Bagni river. The Terme Luigiane are Calabria’s oldest and most renowned well-being and healing resort; in fact, the healing powers of the sulphurous water of the Terme Luigiane were known since ancient times by Pliny the Elder that described them as unpleasant-smelling but very beneficial.The Terme Luigiane have hyperthermal sulphurous water with bromide and iodine and boast of having Italy’s highest content of sulphur in water.
Reopened in 2011, during the 450th anniversary of the massacre of the Waldensians in Calabria and Puglia, the museum tells the story of the small Waldensian community of Guardia Piemontese, from the massacre perpetrated in these places due to religious reasons up to present day. The Museo Valdese (Waldensian Museum) is located inside "Giovan Luigi Pascale” culture centre, in a historic building of the old town centre belonging to Tavola Valdese, next to the so-called "Porta del Sangue" (Gate of Blood). The museum, open to the public by means of a prior booking, features explanatory panels of Waldensian history in Calabria and worldwide, documents and items, as well as a conference room and a rich collection of audiovisual material.
Inaugurated on 22 January 2011, it is a museum dedicated to learning about Occitan culture and history by means of video files and documentaries of the Occitan town. The museum is equipped with a library and multimedia room, an exhibition hall, a training room and a conference room. It offers a multi-media show on Occitan history and culture in Europe, Italy and the town of Guardia Piemonte.
The Multimedia Museum is a point of reference for anyone who wishes to immerse themselves into the history of this location and community.
The marina can be found at the foot of the mountainous ridge on which Guardia is based and offers beautiful coastline views along the Riviera dei Cedri (Citrus Coast). In the summer months, the Marina is invaded by large groups of tourists attracted by the area’s beauty and the possibility of combining coastal tourism with hikes up the mountains. The Marina offers many possibilities in terms of hospitality and leisure.