The Occitan Calabria

The Calabri Vagantes Projects


Guardia Piemontese is the only Occitan linguistic island in Southern Italy.

Of the linguistic minorities present in Calabria, the Occitan is a minority among minorities.

Preserving the language is of vital importance. Occitan, a Romance or Neo-Latin language, that is derived from Latin, was developed at the end of the Roman Empire and is spoken by 3.3 million people in three countries: Italy, France and Spain.

In particular it is spoken in the south of France, in Val d'Aran in Spain (in Catalonia), in the valleys of Piedmont, in a small area of Liguria and in Guardia Piemontese.


The term Occitan is owed to Dante Alighieri, who in De vulgari eloquentia of 1303 was the first to classify the languages starting from the adverb of affirmation, identifying three idioms: lingua del sì, Italian, lingua d'oil, oiltano or French, and lingua d'oc (from the Latin hoc est, this is it), Occitan.

The term Occitan began to be used for the regions where the doc language was spoken.

In the Divine Comedy, in Canto XXVI of the Purgatory there are 8 verses in Occitan, which is the only "foreign" language present in the poem.

There are about 250-300 people, mostly elderly, who speak Guardiolo, the variant of Occitan spoken in Guardia Piemontese.

The religious connotation of the “Valdesi” in Calabria has been erased in Calabria by persecutions operated by the Catholic Church in past centuries The language, together with the dress, is all that remains of our ancestors.

Of all the colonies of “Valdesi”in Calabria, the only one to survive was that of Guardia Piemontese, where all the survivors who had escaped the massacre and forced to convert to Catholicism were grouped together.

They were given the gift of life and subjected to severe punishments, among which was the prohibition to speak Occitan among themselves.

The language, in spite of the prohibition has been handed down for centuries from father to son, but today it is at risk.

The elementary school of Guardia Piemontese has included guardiolo among the curricular subjects, an hour a week that averages on the report card. Guardiolo is distinguished by some words shaped over the centuries by the influence of Calabrian dialect.

In Guardia we have a serious problem, currently we have just one teacher who teaches guardian, but once she retires it will be very difficult to find a tenured teacher who knows our language. We need the help of the Ministry of Education to find a solution quickly. This is the appeal made by the Gaetano Cistaro Institute of Guardia Piemontese.

Guardia, the Gàrdia, a crossroads of different religions and cultures, was founded at the end of the thirteenth century by the Occitan-speaking Waldensians coming from the Piedmont valleys to escape misery and religious persecution. It was the only one of the six Waldensian towns of Calabria facing the sea.

The small community of the Guardiola achieved more than two centuries of prosperity and well-being by having good relationships with the local population, paying regular tributes to the Marquis Spinelli, who received them in his territories. However, having discretion regarding the practice of a different religion; the need to freely profess their faith remained strong.

With the adhesion of the Waldensians of Piedmont to the Calvinist reform in 1532, the Guardiola community also felt free to preach in public.

The Curia was until then tolerant but, already concerned about the spread of Protestantism in Northern Europe, deemed intolerable the outbreaks of heretics in Southern Italy.

Putting pressure on the Spanish royal family and on the local lords, it instructed the then Cardinal Michele Ghisleri, the future Pope Pius V, to attempt a possible conversion using the methods of the Inquisition.

The attempt was in vain. The eventual transition to a fierce persecution was inevitable, leading to the annihilation of the villages of San Sisto, Montalto Uffugo, Vaccarizzo, San Vincenzo La Costa, Argentina, Santa Maria La Castagna and Guardia Piemontese, which became a place of deportation for those who recanted and where they were subjected to harsh rules.

Guardia Piemontese has been awarded the title of "European City of the Reformation" by the Community of Protestant Churches in Europe. This title is awarded to countries and cities that have links with the history of the Reformation and that go to constitute a real European network.

The project, created in the context of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, aims to highlight the European aspect of the Reformation and the key role that many cities played in this regard. It is recommended to those who decide to go to Guardia Piemontese to visit the Cultural Center Gian Luigi Pascale and admire the exhibits which include traditional dress.

The center aims to enhance the Waldensian Museum, through a research program on the history of the Waldensians in Guardia, neighboring countries and throughout Calabria, to pass on the knowledge of craftsmanship starting from the processing and weaving of raw materials and to take action to protect the Occitan language.

We also organize very interesting excursions on the "Waldensian Paths".

For further information consult the website:

(Text written by Dr. Gabriella Sconosciuto)