Nowadays, my idea of leisure is increasingly oriented towards the outdoors. Surprising? I wouldn’t say so. It might have been spurred by my recent move from the urban Turin to the countryside Terni, or the months of seclusion in my own house. Maybe it was the pandemic that contributed to what I now claim as my biggest dream: let me go outside! And, believe me, for a girl who always used the house as a dormitory, and preferred intimate clubs or friend-filled houses to outdoors activity, this is a huge change. So, I welcomed this new chapter of my life in a brand new region with plenty of things to discover. Before moving to lower Umbria and turning everything around, I thought of this region as “only” a seamless expanse of naturalistic wonders.
First of all, Umbria is much more than the “Green Heart of Italy”, as the tourism marketing claims for ages. Of course, the reality lives up to expectations (or, as Radiohead would sing: No surprises) because of Umbria’s extensive outdoor options. A paradise for trekking and bike lovers, with its breathtaking views, such as those in Monte Cucco Park; with its poetic flairs, no wonder Fonti del Clitunno inspired authors such as Giosuè Carducci; with its flowering fields (in season), my heart goes to the plans of Castelluccio, close to Norcia. Something that I wouldn’t have expected, and that sheds a new light over this Green paradise: the role that steel plays around Terni.
Umbria is not just lush nature, but nature together with humanity and metal, creating unmissable routes for Industrial Archeology lovers like me. And this is an unusual fil rouge to discover the surroundings.
We start this Industrial Archeological tour from Terni – well-known as “Italian Manchester”. From 1884 onwards it hosted the Steelworks and the still active Arms Factory. A city with a heavy past due to the bombings it suffered during the Second World War, holds a unique landscape made of Ancient Roman ruins, medieval corners, Baroque remnants, and industrial architecture such as hydroelectric plants and factories.
For those who wish to discover Terni there are two paths to choose, separately or together, by foot or by car: the one inside the city, and the one that leads outside, towards the Marmore Falls.
Industrial Archeology and Steel Art in the City
When you get off the train and you find yourself in front of a 12,000-ton “Big Press” that towers over the square in front of the station, built by the English firm Davy Brothers and belonged to Ternane Steelworks.
You can imagine it when you take a walk in the CAOS (Centro Arti Opificio SIRI) complex, a cultural center a stone’s throw from the historic center and dedicated to the enjoyment of the arts and creative production, and when you visit the Archaeological Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art – the result of conversion project of the former SIRI chemical factory – or when you grab a bite at the Fat Art Club.
You can grasp it when you observe two sculptures: the iridescent obelisk “Lancia di Luce“ by Arnaldo Pomodoro; here you discover the meaning of celebration and warning of technological achievements and the “Great Hyperion” of the sculptor Agapito Miniucchi, which represents the Conca Ternana and its industrial DNA.
You sense it: Terni is precisely the “City of Steel”.
Paths of Industrial Archeology outside Terni
But the best part comes when you leave the city by car and travel towards the iconic Marmore falls. Kilometer after kilometer, this fascinating route unveils the identity of a territory that is extremely linked to its waters, and to the energy it draws from it.
As a first stop, we pause along the way at the “Telfer” of the neglected electrochemical plant in Papigno, where several pipelines that cross the river are made, and at the nearby film studios, where films such as Life is Beautiful and Pinocchio with Roberto Benigni were made. The anecdotes of the Terni people from those days are worth listening to!
Next stop: Centrale di Galleto, a structure that played a fundamental role in the urban development of the city of Terni. Designed by the architect Cesare Bazzani and inaugurated in 1929 to produce and supply electricity to the steel mills and industries in the area it still functions today and offers an evocative spectacle, especially coming from Papigno.
Between one photograph and the other, we arrive at the Marmore Falls, or rather, at the upper Belvedere of the Waterfall. Recently built and winding for about one km on a flat path, path no. 5 is perfect for admiring the breathtaking view over the Nera River Park (from the Terni basin to the Ferentillo gorges) and many examples of industrial archeology.
We have thus arrived at the end of our route, but with a bonus track: if you happen to be around here in late spring / summer, extend the route to Narni and up to Stifone, where the Mulino Netti (formerly ERG) dominates in a landscape with crystal clear waters known as Gole del Nera. Must visit!