Between 1941 and 1948 the Sauris valley was the scene of truly grandiose works: the construction of the Lumiei hydroelectric power plant, with the magnificent barrage (dam) in La Maina.
At that time, it was the highest dam in Italy and one of the largest in the world measuring 136 metres high. Due to the lack of local labour, engaged on the front line, 300 New Zealand prisoners were employed to carry out the works. Of these, approximately 100 were hosted in the shacks in La Maina.
The Lumiei power plant was inaugurated on 30th March 1948 and between that year and the year after, the basin was filled with water. Of the fifteen families that lived in the old hamlet, eight of them had to abandon their property (homes, stables, haylofts, meadows, fields, woodland, mills and a sawmill) and build new homes in upstream areas.
The lake was emptied
In 1992 the lake was completely emptied to allow ENEL to carry out maintenance work on the dam. The landscape without water had a bleak, almost lunar appearance, surely different from what it looked like fifty years previously. This made many memories flow back for the elderly; the younger generations, who had been used to seeing the lake since they were born, it provided an opportunity to get to know a little history of their town.
Sensations and memories:
- “It was great to live in La Maina, afterwards everything changed. When they decided to build the dam, they couldn’t wait to send us away. They took most of the countryside away from us to build shacks for the workers”;
- “At the end of October 1948, the level of the water started to rise, we did not know where to go. When I look at the lake, I know what I have been through and I suffer for this, my heart is down there, I have lost everything, my home and my fields.”;
- “I worked for SADE, in all we were about one hundred workers. I remember the incredible deforestation work. All the trees were cut down and the timber was stacked and taken elsewhere. The inhabitants were paid, and they were offered a job. Of course, they had no choice! It was a great Fascist-style venture and the partisans tried to prevent the dam from being built. A few gunshots were heard but nothing more.”
If you wish to know more, go to the Ethnographic Centre in Sauris di Sopra, where you will find Lucia who will tell you everything about the building of the dam and the birth of the Lumiei valley and you will be able to purchase her book entitled “La Diga del Lumiei nella valle di Sauris” (The Lumiei Dam in the Sauris Valley).