The Horizontal Watermill

July 27, 2012 / Places
Citta’ di Castello, Umbria

The Serafini family has a watermill that runs through their house. Literally. Unlike vertical watermills, theirs is horizontal… the water wheel is situated under the house.

A part of the river is redirected to the home of Dina and Guido and when the mill is in use, the water runs underneath it. You would think their first concern was the humidity, but their ancestors in the 1700s knew a thing or too about building with temperature control in mind. The result is that the house is always dry and not too hot in the summer, nor too cold in the winter. How’s that for antique air-conditioning?

There used to be quite a few water mills in the upper Val Tiberina (upper Tiber Valley) that ground (macinare) wheat, corn and barley for the area, especially during the last war, recounted Guido. Now, they are one of the few left.

In the photograph Guido is regulating the amount of water flow – the more water, the faster the water wheel turns and, therefore, the faster the grindstones turn, grinding the grains.

Under the house, you can see the 300 year-old water wheel’s wooden blades attached to the shaft, which in turn is attached to the grindstones situated up above. 18th Century Umbrian mill engineering at its absolute best!

Jean Tori

by Jean Tori

Artist- Art website: Art blog: Design company: Jean also rents holiday houses in her medieval hamlet in Umbria at

18 Responses to “The Horizontal Watermill”

  1. Anne Robichaud

    ….and let us hope that the milling can still go on in the future as water quantities diminish here in Umbria (everywhere?)

  2. Toni Galli Sterling

    Let’s hope that this “knowledge” continues to be passed on to future generations to preseve this sensible way of life. Thank you for such a great story, Jean. Please keep them coming.

  3. Please keep up the recognition of what are sadly becoming lost arts and skills. Maybe this way they won’t really be lost. Let’s hope future generations stay interested in these old ways. Speriamo che le prossime generazioni se ne interessino. Grazie mille per tutti questi articoli per farci sapere e riconoscere. Li apprezzo sempre. (I also recommend a book called “Pietro’s Book,” detailing the tough life of a sharecropper contadino in Toscana.) NCE

    • Dear Nancy, thank you so much for your note. I so agree that, unfortunately, we are losing many skills that once were so useful and commonplace. Fortunately we find, in our daily lives here in Umbria, so many that keep alive what we call “mestieri” in Italian, which means profession or expertise crafts. Even keeping a vegetable patch in this area is a mixture of science, philosophy and art. We are still in the – where is the best place to put it! Ciao, Jean

  4. Lin Blohm

    Great story,Jean. Man and never cease to amaze. I recently discovered the “Notebook” through a friend and I’m loving it. Thanks to Dina and Guildo for sharing a part of their lives with us.

    • Dear Lin, thank you for the great comment. It’s so true. Fortunately! So glad you found Notebook – I am often amazed myself at what is out there through the site. Ciao, Jean

  5. Mary Jane, it’s not only incredible what still works, it’s incredible how some things from the past work even better – ‘ancient’ building designs that keep the house cool in summer is what is getting us through our heat wave!

    Anne, I have a feeling that when it does rain, it’s going to pour!! Hopefully!

    Toni, it’s an amazing way of life they have and it’s not just grinding their own wheat and corn that they farm, but it ranges from wine making to prosciutto curing to vegetable patch and fruit orchard growing. I could say back to nature, but in this case, they wisely never left nature.

    Thank you all for your messages.
    Ciao, Jean
    PS. Loved how the Olympic games started their ceremony in a bucolic state!

  6. Interestingly enough, while visiting a Turkish city near the Black Sea Coast, they had replicas of old Roman waterwheels placed in the middle of the river. The Romans had a system of using the wheels to pump water into the city by using the current to move the wheels. If rivers were as pure now as then, it would still be a good idea! We can learn so much from the past. It is encouraging that some just keep using that knowledge.

  7. Marianna, thanks, you have good taste in regions!
    Malinda, verissimo! Grazie.
    Ciao from a wind swept, heat soaked Umbria! Jean

  8. This is a wonderful story and I think the pictures are what make it better because they make me feel like I’m there with the Serafini family in Umbria! Thank you!

  9. Jenifer, thank you for the great compliment. My daughter took the photographs and getting down under the house where the water wheel was with all the water rushing past our ankles in our wellington boots was so funny I don’t think I could have kept the camera still. It was a mini, as my daughter called, Indiana Jones adventure. The Serafini’s homemade fantastic wine we drank afterwards was not bad either! ciao, Jean

  10. It is amazing how something so old still works. Perhaps companies nowadays should learn from the old ways. It’s also very green! :)

    Thank you for sharing, Jean!


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