Biferno in Molise

The Biferno river is closely associated with the Molise region. It starts at roughly 500 m above sea level near Bojano, north of the Matese massif, and opens into the Adriatic Sea between Termoli and Campomarino. In total, it travels about 85 km. Numerous rivers, valleys and ditches flow into it along the way, including the Rio and Cigno streams.
The river actually starts from four different sources: - the Riofreddo group, which rises to the surface 2.5 km east of the village of Bojano, just below 520 m above sea level, with a maximum ebb of about 1 m3/s; - the Pietrecadute group, due east of Bojano and about 400 m from the SS road to Campobasso, at 484 m above sea level, with an ebb of about 900 l/s; - the Torno group, made up of various springs and practically in Bojano, with an ebb of less than 200 l/s; - the Maiella group, which rises to the surface near the ‘Masserie Maiella’ district, at about 500 m above sea level and roughly 1 km from, with a maximum ebb of about 800 l/s.
The SS647 ‘Bifernina’ road basically follows the course of the Biferno. Heading along it, you see numerous power stations, while others can be reached by taking short detours to the left or right sides of the river. The San Massimo power station, by contrast, is located on the upper section of the river, quite close to the Campitello Matese skiing area.
Some sections of the SS647 road are scenic, with wide open views of the valley; the panoramas in the Lake Guardialfiera zone are well worth seeing. In the late 1970s, the Liscione dam was built on the Biferno, leading to the flooding of an area that included the ancient Ponte di Annibale (Hannibal’s Bridge). It is said that this bridge was used by the famous general to get his army across the river. The lake is now home to a wonderful fish population that includes carp, chub, pike, tench, crucian carp, rudd, eel and trout. Guardialfiera is the birthplace of Francesco Jovine, author of Le Terre del Sacramento (translated into English as The Estate in Abruzzi, although sometimes known by the more literal title of The Lands of the Sacrament). Once a bishop’s seat, the town is now a characteristic hamlet perched around the few remnants of the castle and an ancient cathedral dedicated to Our Lady of the Assumption.
The latter has a recently rediscovered early-Christian crypt. Guglionesi is notable both for its history and art. The two main churches here are S. Nicola and S. Maria Maggiore. Excavations in the Santa Margherita district have brought to light a very interesting necropolis. The Italian League for the Protection of Birds (LIPU) has created a protected area at Casacalenda. It covers an area once used by coalminers: a wood on a hill covering about 140 ha of notable biodiversity. Morrone del Sannio can boast the Abbey of S. Maria di Casalpiano, built in the 13th century over an earlier building that seems to have originated in the pre-Roman era. The most important monument in Petrella Tifernina is the church of S. Giorgio, which was built in 1211. It rises in the centre of the hamlet, as was typical for churches built in the Middle Ages. At Baranello, on the river, you should go to see the Corona mill, a stone building from the 1770s. The town museum is housed in the town hall (Palazzo Comunale) and displays the wide-ranging collection donated by the architect Giuseppe Barone. You can see archaeological finds, porcelain objects and paintings. Larino, Termoli and Bojano are filled with evidence of the past, much of which is already famous. Biferno, finally, gave its name to a DOC (Controlled Denomination of Origin) wine from the region and the vineyards can be seen around Campobasso. Bojano is famous for its excellent dairy products, especially appassite cheese.


Church of S. Giorgio - Petrella Tifernina

Electric power

In 1926, the Biferno river drove numerous hydroelectric plants (Passo Benigno, Imporchia or Gravellina, Molino Celli, Defensa, Pescolardo di Castelpetroso, Donatelli, Riofreddo, Fornici, Ischia, Bovaro, Mulino del Duca, Precettoressa and Rocca), many of which were converted mills. In 1927, the Società Elettrica del Biferno (Biferno Electric Company) began work on the Ripalimosani plant, in Morgia del Medico. A survey of power plants in Italy carried out in 1936 recorded an amazing 14 power stations on the Biferno river. In 1948, following the extremely tough war years, the San Massimo (partially), Riofreddo, Colagrosso (a few hours a day), Biferno, Covatta, Precettoressa, Mulino del Duca and Vallecupa power stations were still in operation. Some of these, following modernisation work, are still ‘gloriously’ in operation. In short, the entire fluvial basin could be seen as an industrial archaeology site or even a hydrolectric power archaeological site.

Irrigation and drinking water

Naturally, the water from the Biferno has also been used for drinking. In 1928, the Provveditorato alle Opere Pubbliche per gli Abruzzi e Molise (ministry overseeing public works in Abruzzo and Molise) created an ambitious and interesting plan to provide all of the municipalities, on the left and right sides of the river from the source to the sea, with water. In 1932, the engineers Francesco and Ernesto Ruffolo, a father and son team, came up with the idea of ‘robbing’ the water, via a canal, to direct it to Naples. Over the following years, the engineer Nicola Zaccardi from Campobasso studied the ‘Problem of Water in Molise’, suggesting the use of various springs as a solution. About 25 years ago, the Liscione reservoir was built, thus creating the most important irrigation dam in the zone.

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