Once upon a time, a vast lake occupied the entire valley of Rieti, making it swampy and insalubrious. Then, a Roman consul called Manius Curius Dentatus saw that this land was extremely beautiful, and he imagined a fertile plain that would give people food instead of malaria.
This is how today’s Velino river, Marmore’s Falls, Rieti’s Plain and all the lakes in-between were born, starting as far back as 271 BC with Dentatus ordering the first land reclamation of the area. The rock was cut and a canal was made to divert the water towards the natural cliff at Marmore, where the Velino falls into the Nera river.
So the lake went back to being the river it was in the mists of time. As a matter of fact, in prehistoric times the waters of the Velino river, particularly rich in calcium carbonate, deposited limestone until they created a difference in height between the plateaus in Rieti’s and Terni’s areas, preventing the water to flow and resulting in its stagnation.
Two centuries after Manius Curius Dentatus, Latin orator Cicero, who was a guest in Quintus Axius’ villa while defending Rieti in a litigation against Terni regarding the water flow in the area, wrote about the river and the plain in a letter to his friend Titus Pomponius Atticus: ‘Once I did that, Rieti’s people led me to their Tempe so that I could support their stance against Terni before the consuls and ten commissioners, because the waters of Lake Velino, diverted by Manius Curius Dentatus by drilling the mountain, were falling into the Nera river, resulting in the Rosea plain being free of stagnant waters and in the soil having a satisfactory humidity level.”
Therefore, the Velino river has shaped these territories for centuries, their identity, their landscape, their traditions. You will notice it in some place names (the village of Colli sul Velino), in festival like the Festa del Sole in Rieti (several competitions take place in the river) and in the local cuisine (trouts and crayfish).
The Velino river, called Avens flumen in ancient Roman times, has its source on Monte Pozzoni’s slopes, near Cittareale in Rieti’s province. After running through a narrow valley next to Mount Terminillo, it receives water from the Peschiera Springs, the second in Italy in regards to water flow. It crosses Rieti and it receives the waters of several tributaries, like the Salto and the Turano rivers, before falling into the Nera at Marmore’s Falls. About 56 miles long, the Velino river is the Nera’s main tributary, which is in turn one of the Tiber’s main tributaries.