The sight of a majestic waterfall is always captivating but this is one with a twist. Not only is the Cascata delle Marmore man-made but it was constructed by the Romans in 271 BC. At 165 metres, it is the highest man-made waterfall in the world. It was not, however, built as a tourist attraction but rather as a solution to health problems afflicting the nearby city of Rieti. The problem was a wetland that was affecting the health of the residents – it was probably malaria – and the solution was the construction of a canal that drained the water and sent it over the cliffs at Marmore.
Over the ensuing 2,000 years there have been ups and downs and modifications but essentially what we see today would be recognised by the original engineers with one major exception. Today the waterflow has been diverted to generate hydroelectricity. But the beauty and economic importance of the falls have been recognised and a balance has been struck.
The water is directed back to the falls twice a day for an hour each time – normally at 13.00 and 17.00 – although there are additional times during holidays. An alarm is sounded to warn visitors and then the gates are opened turning a small stream into a spectacular torrent descending through three stages into the valley below.
There is a tourist path that leads up from the valley and along the way there is a tunnel that leads to an observation platform in front of the cascade. But, be warned, when the water is in full flow you are guaranteed to get soaked. At the top there is another opportunity to enjoy the spectacle together with a fabulous view across the valley to the mountains beyond.
The opening hours vary greatly depending on the time of year so if you would like to visit, do check the website to confirm the current times.