“Horribly beautiful” - thus Lord Byron described the Marmore Waterfall, which he saw in 1817 during his Italian Grand Tour; he was so impressed by the falls’ grandeur and the roar of waters he wrote about it in the poem “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage”. He was not alone in that feeling of amazement: la cascata delle Marmore has captured the imagination of writers and painters since the 16th century and was for a long time a must- stop on the Grand Tour undertaken by affluent European young men.
With three leaps reaching a total height of 185 meters, the Cascata delle Marmore is Europe’s highest man-made waterfall. Located within the Nera River Park, in Umbria’s Valnerina, the Marmore Waterfall was created at the beginning of the 3rd century BC, when the Roman consul Curio Dentato ordered that the water of the Velino river be diverted into the underlying Nera river, through a canal called Cava Curiana, in order to eliminate the swamps which made the nearby plains unhealthy.
But perhaps you’ll like the legend surrounding the creation of the waterfall better: shepherd boy Velino fell in love with the beautiful nymph Nera after seeing her bathe in the river below; alas, he was rejected, and threw himself off the cliff into the river to be with his beloved forever.
Between the 15th and 18th centuries, chief architects of the time, including Antonio Sangallo, worked on the waterfall to build new canals allowing for a better water flow, giving the falls the appearance they have today. Since the mid-19th century, the water from the falls has been used to produce hydroelectric energy to fuel the industrialization of the area. For this reason, the full flow of water is only released at certain times of the day. For maximum impact, try to arrive at one of the viewpoints a few minutes before the release, announced by a siren (tip: bring a rain jacket as you will get wet).
You could spend an entire day walking the waterfall’s network of paths. The easy number 2 trail takes you to the heart of the waterfall through stairs and bridges. It has a great view over the second and third jump. If you’re feeling romantic, take the number 1 trail to the “Lovers Balcony”, a tiny terrace nestled in the rock a few inches from the waterfall; if you stretch your arm out, you can touch the water. For the only full frontal view of the falls, take the number 4 trail up to the Belvedere Pennarossa. It’s worth the brief uphill hike.
Several guided visits are offered, including night tours and animated tours for children. For something a bit more adventurous, try rafting and canoeing.
Where: The Marmore Waterfall is a 20-minute drive from Terni, in the heart of Umbria’s Valnerina, a verdant valley dotted with medieval villages, about an hour and 40 minutes from Rome. [Stay tuned for more articles on the Valnerina.]
For more information about the Marmore Waterfall, click here.