Cascata delle Marmore: A Man-Made Waterfalls Created by Ancient Romans
About 8 kilometers east from the city of Terni, in the Umbria region of Italy, is a beautiful three-tiered waterfalls called Cascata delle Marmore or the Marmore Falls. The falls were once part of the ‘Grand Tour’ which wealthy young Englishmen of the 17th and 18th century took through France and Italy seeking out places art, culture and the roots of Western civilization. Marmore Falls’ curiosity lies not solely in its grandeur but also in the fact that it was a product of human intervention with nature.
Twenty-two hundred years ago, there was no waterfalls here. The River Velino, where the falls are located, took a completely different path ending in a swamp within the plains of Reiti. The stagnant waters of the swamp was deemed unhealthy and was blamed for various illness that affected the population, and so the Roman consul Manius Curius Dentatus ordered the construction of a canal, known as Curiano Trench, in 271 BC, to drain the swamps and direct the excess waters into the natural cliff at Marmore creating the falls. From there, the water fell into the Nera river below.
However, the solution didn’t work out as expected. The Reiti valley continued to flood, and when water was high in the Velino River, it now flooded the Terni valley too where the water was diverted. The man-made canal and the resulting flood became a long source of dispute between the inhabitants of Terni and Reiti valley. The former wanted the canal closed, while the latter wanted the flow of the falls increased to accommodate the excess water. The issue between the two cities was so contentious that the Roman Senate was forced to address it in 54 BC, but a consensus couldn’t be arrived and matter remain unresolved for centuries.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, the barbaric invasion and the development of the feudal system caused the planed territories and the countryside to be gradually abandoned. The lack of maintenance of the Curiano channel caused the base of the channel to accumulate silt and the Reiti valley once again began to flood. It was not until the 15th century that Pope Gregory XII ordered the construction of a new canal to restore the original flow. Further improvement were made by Pope Paul III in the mid-16th century and a regulating valve was installed to control the flow. The final adjustments, which gave the falls the present appearance, was made by architect Andrea Vici on the instruction of Pope Pius V1 in the late 18th century.
Andrea Vici was able to resolve most of the flooding problems which have left the falls untouched for the last two hundred years. However, there is a hydroelectric plant in River Velino now which causes the falls’ flow to diminish or increase depending on when the plant releases their excess water. Water is released twice everyday, an hour each time—between 12:00 and 13:00 and again between 16:00 and 17:00. During holidays additional waters are released for the tourists to enjoy.
The Marmore Falls have a total height of 165 meters making it the tallest man-made waterfall in the world. Of its three sections, the top one is the tallest, at 83 meters.