All countries have their legends and myths, and Italy is no different. We take a look at some of the strangest and most interesting of Italian legends – from the origins of a mystical rainbow lake to the mystery of a Roman king’s missing treasure.
The Legend of the Rainbow Lake
Located at the foot of the Latemar Massif in the Italian Dolomites is Lake Carezza; a stunningly beautiful location surrounded with snowcapped mountains and towering fir trees. The lake is known as the rainbow lake, due to the plethora of colours reflected by its water.
According to legend, Lake Carezza was the home to a beautiful water nymph who would sit by the shores and sing to herself. One day, the sorcerer of Masarè was travelling nearby, heard her singing and instantly fell in love. However, the nymph would disappear into the lake whenever anyone approached her — and even the sorcerer’s magic couldn’t capture her. On the advice of a witch, the sorcerer cast a rainbow that stretched from Catinaccio to the Latemar mountains — with the intention of using the rainbow to attract the nymph. His plan worked, but the sorcerer forgot to disguise himself and the water nymph realised the rainbow was a trap. In his anger, the sorcerer smashed the rainbow and the pieces fell into the lake; creating the beautiful colours still visible today.
The Legend of La Sarneghera
Located near the city of Brescia is Lake Iseo, and the island of Monte Isola. During the summer months, a meteorological phenomenon occurs — massive thunderstorms which come from the southwestern part of the lake — which have been christened ‘La Sarneghera’ by the locals.
The story behind these thunderstorms have been attributed to events which occurred during the middle ages, when a beautiful lady from Monte Isola — betrothed against her will to an older nobleman — fell into the lake and was rescued by a fisherman. The two fell in love, and were happy until her father discovered the tryst and demanded she was imprisoned in a castle until the day of her wedding. On the day of her wedding, her father let her visit the lake — whilst ordering the fisherman be killed. Upon hearing the screams of her true love, the lady threw herself into the lake. The annual thunderstorms are believed to be the two lovers calling out to another and exacting revenge on the land which tore them apart.
The Legend of Alaric’s Treasure
In 410 AD, Alaric — king of the Visigoths — became the first foreign enemy to capture Rome in over 800 years; when he left the city with his troops to venture into North Africa they were forced to retreat by a terrible storm and they headed back through the region of Calabria. However, when they reached modern-day Cosenza, Alaric died and his troop’s ordered slaves to divert the river Busento and create a treasure-filled tomb large enough for Alaric, his horse, and a lifetime of amassed riches. Once the tomb was completed, the river was redirected and the tomb covered in water — with the exact location kept secret.
During the mid 18th Century, explorers attempted to unearth the tomb — but to no avail. Since then, a new theory has emerged; that the tomb is located at the confluence of the Caronte and Canalicchio rivers instead.
The Legend of Marmore’s Falls
A short drive from the city of Terni, the Cascata delle Marmore (Marmore’s Falls) are the tallest man-made waterfall in the world, with a height of 541 feet (approx. 165 metres). Incredibly, the structure was constructed during the Roman times — although, of course, there is an alternative origins story for the falls.
Legend states that a nymph called Nera fell in love with a handsome shepherd, called Velino. Their strong love angered the goddess Juno and in a jealous rage she transformed the nymph into the eponymous river. In order to be with his beloved forever, the love-struck Velino jumped from the Marmore cliff into the river below — and the falls were created as a lasting memory for their eternal love.
Nowadays, the falls are a popular tourist destination, with several walking routes around them for visitors to explore — its worth checking the website beforehand to find out both the opening times and the times the water flow is switched on. We recommend arriving before the full water flow is unleashed, in order to witness the incredible transformation.