A corner of Cosenza between sea and mountains collects enchanted villages and unknown treasures. And a peculiarity: the ancient Provençal Alpine language, fruit of the Piedmontese migration. Read about the history and culture that defines the region.
While the beaches of the Cedars Riviera make dream beach holidays, this corner of Calabria contains its’ treasures in its villages, less known, but capable of offering as much as its famous coast. A landscape, in the province of Cosenza, parallel and secret, where time passes at a slow pace, especially beautiful in autumn. “I looked out of my window at a landscape that was already inside me and I felt an emotion that was already in the landscape.” The Argentine writer Eise Osman says this and it is the feeling that one feels when crossing the entrance arch of Guardia Piedmontese. A small historic center located on the edge of a hill overlooking the sea (rising just over 500 meters above the water), like a sentinel. Long time ago, the town was called La Guardia, for the tower dating back to the year 1000 which was used to control the passage of the Saracen ships that at that time infested the Mediterranean. It took the name of Piedmontese when the Waldensians from Piedmont reached Calabria to escape persecution: it was the end of year 1200. Over the centuries, the community has always remained well anchored to its own ethnic identity, and has tried in every way to preserve it through ancient traditions and keeping the Occitan language, the doc language of Southern France that is still studied in elementary schools in Guardia Marina and that everyone here speaks. Do not be surprised if you are greeted with a “benvengut”, a welcome that will sound a little strange to your ears.
And it will seem to be abroad and not in Italy looking at the names of the streets that are also in Occitan. To explain the history, with passion and love for the territory, we meet Sandra, one of the guides of the “Gian Luigi Pascale Cultural Center”, a museum that starts from the origins of the first landings of the Occitan-speaking Waldensians in the ports of Paola and Cetraro (XIII century) forced to flee their homelands due to ever more pressing and violent Catholic intolerance. “Favored by their speech, which isolated and protected them, they continued to profess their Waldensian faith, but with extreme prudence so as not to provoke the reaction of local Catholics,” says the young woman. “They continued to keep in touch with their valleys of origin through the “beard” – a word that means “uncle” and that we still use – “itinerant preachers who, pretending to be artisans and merchants, with the Bible hidden under their clothes, continued to spread their religious beliefs”.
Despite the discretion and prudence of these people, their history ended in June 1561 with a terrible massacre. In that year, the Catholic Church sentenced thousands of innocents to death in the country, on charges of heresy, including women and children. Today, in memory of that ancient massacre, the entrance door has remained, since then called “the door of the blood”. It is said that it was so much the spilled blood that the alleys up to the door turned red. Following the cobbled streets, while cats doze near antique doors, characterized by peepholes for control, one can still breathe the atmosphere of the time.
The narrow and silent lanes between stairways and balconies, the houses huddled together that seem to have been built to protect themselves, to communicate easily, to make a common front against any external danger. In the cultural center, you can also admire the clothes that women once wore: the daily one, the party one and the wedding one. They differed in fabrics. Precious lace, gold plots and ribbons for the wedding dress, resistant velvet for the daily one. Particularly the headgear called “Penalh”, penaglio, and the apron called “foddile”.
Below, there is also a small artisan workshop. Some women of the country have taken up the tradition and made them in loom and by hand. A human and cultural richness that is added, therefore, to that already boundless of the surrounding nature. Opposite, in fact, a small square opens a glimpse of unparalleled beauty on the blue of the sky and the sea, a balcony from which to look out to fill the eyes with wonders and make the gaze wander up to the Aeolian and Cape Palinuro and the green of the woods that fades in gold and in red, typical of Autumn.
When you return to the main road you are greeted by a sign saying: Terme Luigiane, a source of perennial youth. And you have to go back many years to understand the reason. They are the oldest and most well-known health resort in Calabria (it was the Neapolitan doctor Giovanni Pagano who gave the name of Luigiane in thanks to Prince Luigi Carlo di Borbone who gave him the patronage for his research on the therapeutic properties of these waters ), and are located between the territory of Acquappesa and Guardia Piemontese. The fame of the healing power of these waters (the richest in sulfur in Europe) is confirmed even by Pliny the Elder, while the first document that testifies to its therapeutic use is a letter of 1446, signed by San Francesco da Paola (a a short distance away is the sanctuary, destination of many faithful). Distinguished doctors such as Gauthier, De Voto, Messini, Frugoni have attested to the exceptional therapeutic efficacy, reported in numerous treatises and university texts.
From here you can reach the Queen’s rock, already known as Petra Majura, with a strong evocative charge. Here the sea lets a precious gift of nature emerge from the water that stands out above, almost caressing the sky, ready to separate the Intavolata and Acquappesa beaches, to the north, from those of Guardia Piemontese Marina to the south. connected. It is said that a King, fallen under a spell, was never satisfied with his victories. This uneasiness led him to leave for another battle but swore to his wife that it would be the last.
Before leaving he told her to look towards the horizon because his return would have been anticipated by a red light in the sky. One day the woman climbed the rock to see better, but she lost her balance and disappeared in the waves. It is said that at sunset the spirits of the royal couple meet and their happy souls can calm the most tumultuous sea. The road that leads to Lamezia (and therefore the airport), is not measured in kilometers but in emotions, and is along the crystalline sea (this part of the Tyrrhenian coast is called San Francesco) that you get to San Lucido, whose position already makes half of its beauty: “laid on a bright hill, so much so that it looks at the rising and setting sun”. You can walk in the silence that envelops, fascinates and almost stuns. The contrasts of the colors, the views that suddenly open up, the sloping of the blue sea in the distance, are an invitation to enjoy a corner of the world that escapes all worldliness. Look up also towards the walls, to notice the numerous masks that adorn them (made by the local artist Marilena Malito).
They represent the faces of the Saracens who invaded and dominated the area. And two lanes are also linked to the Saracens: via Donna Poppa and via Donna Vienna. These are two young men who at the time of the invasion of these Arabs preferred to take their own life, rather than give themselves to them or marry them without love. Among the many curiosities there are the staircase and the statue of love. It is said that taking a selfie with the background of these two works guarantees lasting love for the couple. Although the set par excellence for memorable images is the one with the statue of Cilla, by sculptor Salvatore Plastina, which dominates the coastal scenery. Who was Cilla? A woman who loved very much and waited in vain for her Tuturo, a sailor who did not return home after a fishing trip.
Finally, the discovery of the towns leads to Fiumefreddo Bruzio (Jiumifriddu in the local dialect), included in the list of the most beautiful villages in Italy, hardly beaten by mass tourism, but which never ceases to hold surprises for those looking for authenticity and simplicity. A stop in this part of Italy is an experience that is not forgotten.
In the Matrice church, near the high altar, you can admire the work of Solimena, the Miracle of San Nicola di Bari, which is represented St. Nicholas in the act of resurrecting a child named Basilio. This is one of the most beautiful paintings of Italian Baroque. The works of Salvatore Fiume are also famous here, who in the period in which he lived in the town (from 1975 to 1996) made several and donated them to the community. If you love crib art, make a stop in via Manzoni. There is a shop that is a sort of “Christmas in Casa Cupiello”, only that instead of the Cupiellos there is the Spina family (Enzo that continues the tradition of his father Attilio). The representation of the Nativity is a true work of art that reflects the country in scale with meticulous details, shepherds in clay, stairs, houses, cured in every detail, as well as the characters grappling with the ancient crafts.
The panoramic terrace, Largo Torretta with the light that changes from minute to minute, cannot fail to capture you. Guido Piovene was right when, in his Journey to Italy, he described Calabria as a region of overbearing beauty.
Find out how you can visit these locations with us at Bellarome Italian Vacations.