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main index   © Jeff Matthews  entry Mar 18, 2016


Liri Island (Isola del Liri) & the Waterfalls

...Enveloping all, the monotone and liquid gurgle from the hoarse impetuous copious fall—the greenish-tawny, darkly transparent waters, plunging with velocity down the rocks, with patches of milk-white foam—a stream of hurrying amber, thirty feet wide, risen far back in the hills and woods, now rushing with volume—every hundred rods a fall, and sometimes three or four in that distance. A primitive forest, druidical, solitary and savage—not ten visitors a year—broken rocks everywhere—shade overhead, thick underfoot with leaves—a just palpable wild and delicate aroma. --Walt Whitman
There are about 350 waterfalls in Italy. Of these, 270 of them are in the upper elevations of the Italian Alps. The Stuhls Falls near Trentino is the largest one in Italy; it has a total drop of 342 meters (1025 feet) with a long single drop of 230 meters (690 feet). Waterfalls in the Apennines, however, especially as you move south, get much smaller. They become, if not gentle, at least more personal and pleasant; they ornament the countryside instead of overpowering it. Often they are tamed for hydroelectric use and thus become part of the urban environment, or even be artificial falls from damned rivers that then release their waters to generate electricity. In very special cases such as Isola del Liri (Liri Island) (images left and right), the river Liri is truly an integral part of that environment, for it divides into two branches that then rejoin, surrounding the town to form an island that is barely 300 meters long and 200 meters wide. Within the town limits, that division forms two waterfalls, one of which makes a 28-meter (92 ft) drop (image, below). The island town is 115 km/70 mi northwest of Naples, a short distance above Monte Cassino, near the town of Frosinone. The town of Isola del Lire actually includes sections around the island, itself, and connected by bridges. The area of the entire town, island and those surrounding sections is 16 km2/6mi2. The current population is about 13,000.


The Liri, itself,  is one of the principal rivers of central Italy; the source is at Mt. Camiciola, elevation 1,701 meters (5,581 ft), in the Simbruini mountains of the central Apennines (province of L'Aquila, region of Abruzzo, near the town of Cappadocia). The river flows southeast through a long valley, parallel to the line of the Apennines. It picks up a small tributary called the Gari, changes names and then flows into the Tyrrhenian Sea a little below Minturno as the Garigliano river. The island town and, indeed, all of the province of Frosinone used to be part of the old Kingdom of Naples and was part of the region of Campania after the unification of Italy in 1861; it was allocated to the region of Lazio (of which Rome is the capital) in the 1930s. For students of military history the name “Liri” is likely associated with the “Liri Valley” and the brutal struggle to overcome German defenses below Monte Cassino in WWII in 1943 and 1944. (That story is here.)

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire Isola del Liri was ruled by the Byzantines and then the Lombards. Later it was part of the Duchy of Sora, becoming a ducal seat under the Boncompagni family. In 1796 it was annexed to the Papal States. The town's main sight is the Castello Boncompagni-Viscogliosi (image, above, and marked with an X in the upper right of the map, above), a fortified palace near the two waterfalls, Cascata Grande (pictured) and Cascata del Valcatoio (to the left of the image, not pictured). The building is mentioned for the first time in 1100; in the 17th century Costanza Sforza turned it into a luxurious villa, which it remains today. It has speldid gardens and refurbished halls and salons and is used for receptions and ceremonial events. It is open to visitors on special occasions.

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