For over two millennia the Cascata delle Marmore has been a source of inspiration and wonder to many. Artists, poets and engineers have all paid a visit to this man-made waterfall and marvelled at its spectacle.
Originally constructed in 271 BC to drain the stagnant waters in the Riete Valley which, were believed to harbour malaria and caused death and destruction in the local area. The waterfalls are comprised of three drops over which the Velino River plunges into the wooded basin below and joins the River Nera.
From its earliest days the falls have held a fascination for creative spirits and in the 19 century BC, the famous Roman poet, Virgil mentions Marmore, in his epic poem The Aeneid.
“A valley of dark woodland and in the trees,
a river that roars and falls over big rocks.”
Dante Alighieri, poet and proclaimed father of Modern Italian, talks about the Cascata delle Marmore in song XX of Paradise, where he says
“Udir seemed to me a river mormorar – that came down clear stone, stone down –
that showing the uberta of his cacume.”
The waterfalls at Marmore were a great source to the Romantic poets and painters, with the likes of Lord Byron, Percy Shelley and Wordsworth all paying visits to them during their Grand Tours.
In his poem the “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage“, Bryon writes –
” The roar of the waters – from the headlong height
Velino cleaves the wave torn precipice,
The fall of waters! where they howl and hiss and boil in endless torture,
while the sweat of their great agony wrung out from this
Their Phlegethon, curls round the rocket of jet
that gird the gulph around the pitiless horror set.”
Talking in a letter, of his time at the falls, Shelley says –
“I saw the Cascata del Marmore of Terni twice, at different periods. Once from the summit of the precipice and again from the valley below. The lower view is fat to be preferred.”
Leonardo da Vinci 1473
Painters also came to the luscious countryside around Terni to capture the verdant beauty of Valle Nera. One of the first being the great Leonardo da Vinci, who sketched the area in 1473. In the mid-17th century, the Neapolitan artist, Salvator Rosa set up his easel at the base of the waterfall as did the early English Impressionist painter, JMW Turner, who traveled through Umbria in 1819 and took time out at Marmore.
Others who, with their pallet and brushes in hand, have explored and recorded the area include Camille Corot in 1826, Joseph Anton Koch, Giuseppe Vasi, Jacob Hackert, Abraham Teerlink, Thomas Patch in 1745 and Rosa da Tivoli.
JMW Turner sketch 1819
The author, Charles Dickens recalled his time at the falls in 1846 in his book “Pictures of Italy”. Architect and theorist, Eugene Viollet le Duc commented that “the waterfall is wonderful“.
While children’s story book writer Hans Christian Anderson said that
“the huge mass of water rushed from the top of the mountain to the rock“.
This dark, roaring and rugged landscape has been the focus of many an artists hue and poets turn of phrase. Over the years it has brought out the creative spirit in many and should you find yourself in Umbria, I urge you to take advantage of the chance and visit this inspirational wonder.