Cascata delle Marmore (Waterfall of the Marmore) was probably one of Italy's more famous waterfalls. We sensed it was famous because it was one waterfall where it seemed like most Italians that we encountered on our trip had either known about it or at least heard of it. The falls also seemed to have gained quite a bit of notoriety internationally as well. Yet despite its apparent fame, the quirky thing about this waterfall was that it was essentially a creation by the Romans!
Although we tend to be down on waterfalls that are artificial or man-made, in this instance (like in the case of Oxararfoss in Iceland), there was a bit of history tied to it. In particular, the Velino River was diverted in 271 BC because its flow was believed to have caused illness to the city of Rieti. It was speculated that the Romans were correct in their line of reasoning as the river's outflow drained into marshlands neighboring the city, and those swamps were believed to have been spawning grounds for malaria-carrying mosquitoes. By the way, Rieti also happened to be the city where NBA player Kobe Bryant attended school between 1984-1992 and was said to be where he developed his fluency in Italian.
Since then, the flow had been modified and utilized for both flood control and hydroelectricity (which is its current utilization). For this reason, we had to time our visit to ensure that we would see Cascata delle Marmore flow as its waters would be released at specific scheduled times. During our visit, we knew the waters would be released between noon and 1pm on weekdays, but it turned out that the water release times vary depending on the month and whether it's a holiday (festivi) or it's on a weekend. For the most up-to-date information on the water release schedule, we've provided a link to the official website of Cascata delle Marmore. Note that once you're in their website, there's a link for the English version of the website as well as another link for timetables and fees.
As for the experience of viewing the waterfall, we felt that this was an instance where less was more. We say this because during the scheduled release of the water over the cliff, we witnessed that there was too much mist being thrown up in the air combined with the midday sun causing bright reflections. The end result was that the main tier (the uppermost drop) was not visible in this state as it was shrouded in the mist.
It wasn't until after 1pm when the waterflow was being reduced that we felt the falls was at its scenic best as the main drop wasn't as shrouded in mist and thus revealed itself. So given our observations, perhaps late afternoon might be a good time to view the falls on a sunny day (as sometimes the waters would be released between 4-5pm), and full flow would not necessarily be the best time for viewing if the river had high volume. The waterfall can also be seen with floodlighting in the evening if it was a festival day (holiday) as the falls would be allowed to run until 10pm.
As for walking to the falls, after paying for admission at the biglietteria (ticket office; we paid 8 euros per person) for the lower car park area (see directions below), we then walked for roughly 300m or so along a wide and paved walkway to the entrance kiosk. After showing our paid admission there, we then continued on the paved walkway, which passed right before the impressive multi-tiered Cascata delle Marmore. During the time the water was released, there was enough mist being generated to spray much of that walkway.
The walkway then continued beyond the waterfall and eventually joined with some trails that ultimately led up to the top of the waterfall. We didn't go do the trail to the top given that we thought the falls only had one hour to flow, and we thought it would take too long to do the hike within the perceived time limit. However, in hindsight, we probably should have done it as we realized that we weren't as time constrained as originally thought, because the waterfall still had satisfactory flow even after the flow was reduced from its peak flow after 1pm.
In addition to the walkway with the open air view of the falls, there were also stairs leading to a more sheltered area with archways providing a slightly less misty viewing experience. There were actually benches down there to relax and take in the scenery though every once in a while the winds would shift and allow some of the waterfall's mist to blow right into the sheltered area.
Overall, Julie and I spent about 90 minutes at just the lower viewing area. However, much of that time was spent sitting and relaxing. So it would be conceivable that a visit here could be as short as a half-hour or so. However, if one were to go for the full experience (seeing both upper and lower viewpoints), then we can easily envision how two hours might be the minimum amount of time to devote to a visit here.
Right to left sweep of the lower sections of the falls before panning up into the misty and blinding upper tier that was mostly hidden from us due to the force of the water creating that mist when it was released
Right to left sweep from the main walkway showing the falls when the water level was starting to get lower due to the water being shut off, but at least it revealed the uppermost tier
Right to left sweep of the falls from the far right side of the main walkway
The nearest city to Cascata delle Marmore is Terni (which is also the provincial capital of Umbria). We reached the city by taking the A1 autostrada north of Rome then junctioning with the E45 (non-tolled) autostrada right into the city.
The waterfall is said to be 7.5km from the city. Fortunately, once the E45 autostrada ended as it became SS675 as it entered the city of Terni, there were numerous brown signs at traffic lights and roundabouts for Cascata delle Marmore to help us navigate around the city and onto the correct roads to one of the two main parking areas (lower and upper falls).
We ended up going straight to the car park for the lower viewing area, but I understand that there were free shuttle buses linking the lower and upper viewing areas so either choice you make should be fine.
According to our GPS tracks, we swung around the southern end of Terni (following the signs for the falls the whole way), which then took us onto SS209. That state road eventually took us to the lower ("inferiore") parking area.
For some geographical context, the city of Terni was 14km east of Narni, 77km (60-90 minutes drive) south of Assisi, 103km (over 90 minutes drive or 1 hour by train) north of Rome, and 165km (about 2 hours drive) north of Frosinone (where we began our drive after visiting Isola del Liri).
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