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Guardiagrele: history, art and food.

I have to admit, until recently I had never considered Guardiagrele among my favorite Abruzzo villages, yet the last time I went there I was really amazed to know its history and everything it has to offer: from medieval churches to nineteenth-century pastry shops. Being in the Majella National Park, the city is listed as one of the most beautiful villages in Italy and was founded by the Normans as an agglomeration of two fortified cities: Guardia and Graeli.

Not everyone knows that Guardiagrele is called "The City of Stone", in fact the houses and monuments were built with the white stone of the Majella, and moreover D'Annunzio mentions it in his "Triumph of Death":

"Guardiagrele, the city of stone, shone at the serene of May. A fresh wind stirred the herbs on the eaves. Santa Maria Maggiore had for all the fissures, from the base to the fastigio, some delicate seedlings, flowered with purple flowers, innumerable; so that the ancient Duomo rose in the cerulean air all covered with marble flowers and live flowers".

(Gabriele D'Annunzio, The Triumph of Death, 1894)

It’s from Santa Maria Maggiore that my historical tour of village started. I’m talking about the collegiate church of Guardiagrele, a fascinating Duomo built, according to some local traditions, in 430 AD on the remains of a pagan temple. Its portal best represents the Gothic Abruzzese dominated by rich works of columns and capitals with a floral pattern.

If we look at the left side of the Duomo, we find a plaque built in 1881 where we can admire all the coats of arms of the noble families of Guardia who lived from the Middle Ages onwards. A truly unique historical testimony.

Once you visit the Duomo, I suggest you continue along the Main Street and stop to taste the typical local dessert called Sisa Della Monaca: it is a small pastry made with two layers of sponge cake stuffed with custard with the shape of three bumps.

Even this pastry has its own story and legend. Apparently it was invented by some nuns who put in the center of their chest a protuberance to ensure that the breast was not too obvious. More likely, however, the three peaks of the sweet should represent the three highest mountain massifs of the Abruzzo Apennines: the Majella, Gran Sasso and Sirente Velino.

Are you wondering where to taste this delicious dessert? Well in Guardiagrele there is a pastry shop that has been around since late 1800s and became popular mainly because of the “Sise delle Monache”, handing down from father to son their traditional secret recipe. The pastry shop is called Emo Lullo and once you enter you will be welcomed by the scents and flavors of this delicious dessert.

Get a “Sisa della Monaca” and then go for a walk along the villa of Guardiagrele consisting of gardens, ponds and monuments.

One of these monuments is dedicated to Modesto della Porta, native poet of this city, which in his works represents the life and reality of his time by painting a precarious Abruzzo especially portraying those who were not born rich. Everyone can pay tribute to this poet by admiring his statue in the center of the villa and doing the so-called "Passeggiata Modesto della Porta". In fact you can find his writings engraved on artistic ceramic tiles, made by the Guardiesi potters Stefania Santone and Annarita Di Cocco, while you are walking along the balcony that characterizes the villa, from which you also have a spectacular view of the whole valley and the surrounding mountains.

The villa was once the cloister of the Poor Clares and their presence remains only the Church of Santa Chiara built in 1250 and renovated in the eighteenth century. This place is not particularly striking for its external facade but more so for a painting inside made by Donato Teodoro, Italian painter born in Chieti. The painting on the vault of the Church is called "The fall of the rebel angels" where Teodoro represents Saint Michael driving out the angels rebelled against God. A swirl of colors and dedication to detail makes this work of art a beauty to admire in silence making us reflect on how art was so important even in times when there was nothing to live.

Among other things to visit we also find:

- The memorial dedicated to Andrea Bafile, a war hero who won medals and fell on the Piave during the First World War.

- The Museum of Art and Crafts in Abruzzo

-The Museum of Customs and Tradition of Guardiagrele

A city steeped in history and legend but not only. For those who love trekking and hiking here you can find many trails. With only 10 driving distance you can reach the town of Bocca di Valle where several trails start. One of the most popular is the one that leads to the Falls of San Giovanni, a water jump of about 30 meters in the Majella National Park, obviously it is recommended to always go well equipped before going for a hike.

In addition to Bocca di Valle always within 10-15 minutes driving you can also reach Piana delle Mele, where you can entertain the little ones with its Adventure Park consisting of trails among the trees using lianas, Tibetan bridges, cables, Nets and walkways. A perfect combination of recreational activities, training experience and sports activities.

Guardiagrele then for its artistic/ cultural heritage but also for its natural beauty, deserves a visit at least once in life and I’m sure you’ll love this city like no other.