RHINE RIVER - Introductory Facts
The Rhine River , whose name comes from the Celtic word renos, meaning raging flow, begins at the Rheinwaldhorn Glacier in the Swiss Alps and flows north and east approximately 820 miles (1,320 km). The glacier is located northeast across the mountains from the town of Andermatt in the Uri canton (state/province). The Rhine begins as a tumultuous Alpine stream churning through deep gorges, and although the river's flow is moderated somewhat as it passes through the Lake of Constance (Bodensee), the river remains a torrent westward to Basel. Just south of Chur, Switzerland, the Hinter Rhine, flowing northwesternly from the glacier, joins the Voder Rhine streaming from Lake Tuma, to form the Rhine proper at Reichenau. The river then flows north to Lake Constance and west through Schaffhausen to Basel, Switzerland. Near Schaffhausen it plunges 23 m (75 ft) over a spectacular waterfall, the Rheinfall. At Basel the river turns north and enters the Rhine Graben, a flat-floored rift valley lying between the Vosges Mountains on the west and the Black Forest (Schwarzwald) on the east. Strasbourg, France, a focal point for merging water routes from the Paris Basin, is located at the valley's northern extremity. With the junction of the Main River at Mainz, in Germany, the Rhine's seasonal regime becomes more stabilized. Along its course from Bingen to Bonn is a beautiful stretch of the Rhine Valley. The river has cut the deep, steepsided Rhine Gorge through the Rhineland Plateau and the Rhenish Slate Mountains. This picturesque gorge, with terraced vineyards and castle-lined cliffs, has often been called the "heroic Rhine," renowned in history and romantic literature. It is complete with fairy tale castles and vineyards snuggled in the overhanging rock face, known as the Mittelrhein. The river flows past Bonn, Germany and becomes the Lower Rhine and emerges onto the North German Plain before it empties into the North Sea. Leading cities on the stream's banks are Cologne, Düsseldorf, and Duisburg. At the Netherlands frontier, it divides into two parallel distributaries, the Lek and the Waal, as it crosses a wide, marshy plain and a great delta before entering the North Sea. Much of this area is at or below sea level, but diking contributed to its becoming one of the most densely populated and important economic regions on the continent. Rotterdam, the leading port of continental Europe, is located near the river's mouth. It passes through or borders on the countries of Liechtenstein, Austria, Germany, France, and the Netherlands.
It is navigable from the North Sea to Basel, Switzerland, a distance of some 500 miles (some 800 km). Eighty percent of it's ship-carrying waters pass through Germany. The entire distance can not support ocean going vessels and they must end their journey in Cologne, Germany. Cologne is located between Koln and Bonn. From there cargo must go by barges pushed by smaller ships until the Rhine reaches the three point intersection of the borders of France, Germany, and Basel, Switzerland.
Because of the multi countries and languages, the river has four names. They are: Rhein, Germany; Rhine, France; and Rijn, Netherlands (Dutch); Rhenus, ancient. There are many other important tributaries that flow into the Rhine. In fact, the Rhine splits into two tributaries near Emmerich, Germany and Zevenaar, Netherlands. Those are the Lek on the north and the Waal on the south. Some of the main tributaries are: the Mosselle (Mosel), that runs south west bordering Luxembourg and on into France; the Neckar that flows south east at Manneheim on through Heidelburg, Germany; the Main, flowing east and south from Mainz through Frankfurt, Germany. The principal rivers of Western Europe, including the Seine, Elbe, Ems, Rhône, and Saône, are linked to it by canals. East of Frankfurt is where The Rhine-Main-Danube Canal links the Rhine with the Danube River, providing a transcontinental route from the North Sea to the Black Sea near Odessa, Ukraine.
During early historic times, Germanic tribes settled on either side of the lower Rhine and Celts alongside its upper sides. Julius Caesar bridged and crossed it in 53 and 55 BC. The Germanias were formed on the north and the Roman empire to the south and east. When the Western Roman Empire disintegrated around 400 AD, the Rhine was crossed along its entire length by Germanic tribes and formed the central backbone first of the Kingdom of the Franks and then of the Carolingian Empire. In 870, the Rhine again became the central axis of a political unit; the Holy Roman Empire. Over time, fighting and political events disintegrated this empire along the Rhine. Even with the fighting and changing hands of frontiers, a goal to connect the North Sea to the Black Sea had existed. It was first put into action by Charlemagne in 793, but it was never a success.