Isola del Liri is an island in name and in fact. The town in the province of Frosinone is one of few in the world to boast a waterfall in its centre. The Cascata Grande (Great Waterfall) is 27-metre tall and is formed by the left arm of the Liri River; another, less spectacular, waterfall rises from the right arm of the river that surrounds the town and separates it from the mainland. Water here is the heart and soul of everything, the real genius loci that makes Isola del Liri one of the most beautiful villages in Ciociaria.
“Today, a hundred or so bars and restaurants are concentrated in just a few square kilometres and these fill with people on Friday and Saturday evenings,” says Lucio Marziale, Councillor for Culture with responsibility for the smart city, who talks about a “spontaneous conversion” to tourism and the restaurant trade in a town with a long industrial history behind it and a future that is yet to be written. The town’s history is well worth telling.
The capital of paper
Councillor Marziale points with his finger to the Great Waterfall, the heart of the town since its birth. “Here first came industry and then the town,” he says. Already in the eighteenth century a wooden wheel driven by the water and connected to pistons crushed rags to make paper. The industrial turning point came with the Napoleonic edict of 1810 that confiscated church property; this started the transformation of religious convents into factories and paper mills owned by the great industrial families of northern Europe. Like the Lefebvre family whose factory continued to operate until 1913, or the Boimond paper mill, one of the most important abandoned industrial sites in the area, home to a huge machine that can still be admired today.
Under the rule of the Kingdom of Naples, Isola del Liri became the capital of paper production and one of the most developed industrial areas: the paper for the London newspaper The Times was produced in the town as were the papers for English cigarettes.
The town’s second industrial boom came with the construction of the hydroelectric power station connected to the waterfall, a plant that is still in operation today. “Public lighting arrived here even before it was installed in Milan: we had company nurseries, and women worked in the factories, not only in the paper mills, but also in the wool and felt factories,” says Marziale. Then, starting in the 1970s came the beginning of an irreversible crisis and a slow conversion to tourism and services.
The fiber revolution
Councillor Marziale is also keen to talk about another turning point for the town based on innovation. Very soon, already from December, the Open Fiber network will be completed, bringing ultrafast Internet to the whole municipality. “It will be one of the first municipalities in the province to be connected,” explains Graziano Gabriele, Open Fiber Field Manager in the province of Frosinone. “The municipality has proved to be very open, efficient and receptive,” he adds, explaining that the network will be 6.1-kilometre long, almost half of which (2.9 km) will be laid out using the existing public lighting infrastructure.
Open Fiber is a wholesale operator: the new network will be open to all operators, including local ones, who will be called upon to activate the services. “Today the electronic highway is more important than the physical one, fiber optics will project Isola del Liri into the future.” In Marziale’s opinion, “precisely because of its industrial spirit, this town has a natural openness to the outside and to the world: here machines were built to be sold in Argentina, Syria and Romania even before the fall of the Berlin Wall.”
A school of the future
Mario Luciani, a computer scientist, is the head teacher of the “Nicolucci-Reggio” public high school, the municipality’s only high school. “Reaching a speed of at least 100 mega is one of the strategic objectives of our school: our mission is to become the technological hub of the middle Liri Valley,” he explains proudly speaking of the 500 students who attend the school, as well as a further 350 at the school’s branch in the town of Sora.
It is a vocational school with a great tradition. “Even today we still guarantee 100% employment two years after graduation, especially in computer science and mechanics.” Now the arrival of fiber optics will enable classes and laboratories to connect to the Internet at speeds of up to 1 giga. “You can’t expect educational innovation to have the same speed as technological innovation, but having the means produces innovation in itself,” he explains.
Four years ago, Marco Cerquozzi and Marco Agostini founded the company MacroSolution, which is located a few kilometres from here and produces software for medium and large companies. “In a way, the arrival of the fiber optics has thrown us a lifeline. If with Open Fiber we can reach connection speeds of up to 1 giga, we can consider optimising the management of servers, bringing them in-house rather than renting them from external suppliers or resorting to the cloud. In general, an ultra-fast Internet network could improve the development of the internal projects we are working on. The first is an Internet of Things product, called Enerfill.it, a dispenser of mineral salts for sports centres; the second, MarketPlaceManager.it, is designed to facilitate the online sale of our customers’ products and services.”
Open Fiber’s ultrabroadband will also make it possible to develop municipal services (such as the beautiful library in the river park), make music festivals such as Rock in Liri and the Liri Blues Festival more attractive, as well as helping rediscover the industrial archaeology in the local area. It will help put this little town in Ciociaria back on the world map. Isola del Liri, soon, will be an island no more.