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A car-ferry across the Rhine at km 372

The Rhine ( ; ; ; ; ; West Frisian Ryn) is one of the longest and most important rivers in Europe, at , with an average discharge of more than .

The name of the Rhine derives from Gaulish Renos, and ultimately from the Proto-Indo-European root *reie- ("to move, flow, run"), which is also the root of words like river and run. The Reno River in Italy shares the same etymology. The spelling with -h- seems to be borrowed from the Greek form of the name, Rhenos.

The Rhine and the Danube formed most of the northern inland frontier of the Roman Empire and, since those days, the Rhine has been a vital, navigable waterway, and carried trade and goods deep inland. It has also served as a defensive feature and has been the basis for regional and international borders. The many castles and prehistoric fortifications along the Rhine testify to its importance as a waterway. River traffic could be stopped at these locations, usually for the purpose of collecting tolls, by the state that controlled that portion of the river.



The Rhine originates at the confluence of the Vorderrhein and Hinterrhein, near Reichenau, Switzerlandmarker.
The Vorderrhein, or Anterior Rhine, springs from Lai da Tuma (Tomaseemarker), near the Oberalp Passmarker and passes the impressive Ruinaultamarker or Swiss Grand Canyon.
The Hinterrheinmarker, or Posterior Rhine, starts from the Paradies Glaciermarker, near the Rheinquellhorn at the southern border of Switzerland. One of its tributaries, the Reno di Lei, is fed by the Lago di Leimarker reservoir that drains the Valle di Lei in Italy.
From Reichenau, the Rhine flows north as the Alpenrhein, passes Churmarker, and forms the border between Liechtensteinmarker and then Austriamarker, on the east side and Canton of St. Gallenmarker of Switzerland, on the west side; then empties into Lake Constancemarker. It emerges from Lake Constance, flows generally westward, as the Hochrhein, passes the Rhine Fallsmarker, and is joined by the river Aarmarker. The Aar more than doubles the Rhine's water discharge, to an average of nearly . The Aar also contains the waters from the summit of Finsteraarhornmarker, the highest point of the Rhine basin. The Rhine roughly forms the boundary with Germany from Lake Constance, until it turns north at the so-called Rhine knee at Baselmarker.

Germany, France, Luxembourg

The Rhine is the longest river in Germanymarker. It is here that the Rhine encounters some of its main tributaries, such as the Neckarmarker, the Mainmarker and, later, the Mosellemarker, which contributes an average discharge of more than . Northeastern Francemarker drains to the Rhine via the Mosellemarker; smaller rivers drain the Vosgesmarker and Jura Mountains, uplands. Most of Luxembourgmarker and a very small part of Belgiummarker also drain to the Rhine via the Mosellemarker. It approaches the Dutch border and the Rhine has an annual mean discharge of and an average width of .

Between Bingenmarker and Bonnmarker, the Middle Rhine flows through the Rhine Gorge, a formation which was created by erosion, which happened at about the same rate as an uplift in the region, which left the river at about its original level and the surrounding lands raised. This gorge is quite deep and is the stretch of the river which is known for its many castles and vineyards. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site marker and known as "the Romantic Rhine", with more than 40 castles and fortresses from the Middle Ages and many quaint and lovely country villages.

Until the early 1980s, industry was a major source of water pollution. Although many plants and factories can be found along the Rhine up into Switzerlandmarker, it is along the Lower Rhinemarker in the Ruhr Area, that the bulk of them are concentrated, as the river passes the major cities of Cologne, Düsseldorfmarker and Duisburgmarker. Duisburg is the home of Europe's largest inland port and functions as a hub to the sea ports of Rotterdammarker, Antwerpmarker and Amsterdammarker. The Ruhrmarker, which joins the Rhine in Duisburg, is nowadays a clean river, thanks to a combination of stricter environmental controls, a transition, from heavy industry to light industry and cleanup measures, such as the reforestation of slag heaps and brownfields. The Ruhr currently provides the region with drinking water. It contributes to the Rhine. Other rivers in the Ruhr Area, above all, the Emschermarker, still carry a considerable degree of pollution.


The Rhine turns west and enters the Netherlandsmarker, where, together with the rivers Meusemarker and Scheldtmarker, it forms the extensive Rhine-Meuse-Scheldt deltamarker, one of the larger river deltas in western Europe. Crossing the border into the Netherlands at Spijkmarker, close to Nijmegenmarker and Arnhemmarker, the Rhine is at its widest, although the river then splits into three main distributaries: the Waal Rivermarker, Nederrijn ("Lower Rhine") and IJssel.

From here, the situation becomes more complicated, as the Dutch name Rijn, no longer coincides with the main flow of water. Two-thirds of the Rhine water flows farther west, through the Waal and then, via the Merwedemarker and Nieuwe Merwedemarker (De Biesboschmarker), merging with the Meuse, through the Hollands Diepmarker and Haringvliet estuaries, into the North Seamarker. The Beneden Merwedemarker branches off, near Hardinxveld-Giessendammarker and continues as the Noordmarker, to join the Lekmarker, near the village of Kinderdijkmarker, to form the Nieuwe Maasmarker; then flows past Rotterdammarker and continues via Het Scheur and the Nieuwe Waterwegmarker, to the North Sea. The Oude Maasmarker branches off, near Dordrechtmarker, farther down rejoining the Nieuwe Maasmarker to form Het Scheur.

The other third portion of the water flows through the Pannerdens Kanaalmarker and redistributes in the IJssel and Nederrijn. The IJssel branch carries one ninth of the water volume north, into the IJsselmeermarker (a former bay), while the Nederrijn flows west, parallel to the Waal and carries approximately two ninths of the flow. However, at Wijk bij Duurstedemarker, the Nederrijn changes its name and becomes the Lekmarker. It flows farther west, to rejoin the Noord Rivermarker into the Nieuwe Maasmarker and to the North Sea.

The name Rijn, from here on, is used only for smaller streams farther to the north, which together once formed the main river Rhine in Roman times. Though they retained the name, these streams do not carry water from the Rhine anymore, but are used for draining the surrounding land and polders. From Wijk bij Duurstede, the old north branch of the Rhine is called Kromme Rijn ("Bent Rhine") past Utrechtmarker, first Leidse Rijn ("Rhine of Leidenmarker") and then, Oude Rijn ("Old Rhine"). The latter flows west into a sluice at Katwijkmarker, where its waters can be discharged into the North Seamarker. This branch once formed the line along which the Limes Germanicus were built. During periods of lower sea levels within the various ice ages, the Rhine took a left turn, creating the Channel River, the course of which now lies below the English Channelmarker.

Large cities

Baselmarker, Strasbourgmarker, Karlsruhemarker, Mannheimmarker, Ludwigshafenmarker, Wiesbadenmarker, Mainzmarker, Koblenzmarker, Bonnmarker, Cologne, Düsseldorfmarker, Neussmarker, Krefeldmarker, Duisburgmarker, Arnhemmarker (Nederrijn), Nijmegenmarker (Waal), Utrechtmarker (Kromme Rijn) and Rotterdammarker (Nieuwe Maas).

Smaller cities

Churmarker, Konstanzmarker, Schaffhausenmarker, Breisachmarker, Speyermarker, Wormsmarker, Bingen am Rheinmarker, Rüdesheim am Rheinmarker, Neuwiedmarker, Andernachmarker, Bad Honnefmarker, Königswintermarker, Niederkasselmarker, Wesselingmarker, Dormagenmarker, Zonsmarker, Monheim am Rheinmarker, Weselmarker, Xantenmarker, Emmerich am Rheinmarker, Zutphenmarker (IJssel), Deventermarker (IJssel), Zwollemarker (IJssel) and Kampenmarker (IJssel).


Existing and former railway bridges, with the nearest train stations on the left and right banks:


  • Switzerland
    • A total of five bridges on the line, Andermatt - Reichenau-Tamins (all single tracked, electrified, 1000 mm gauge)


  • Switzerland
    • A total of two bridges on the line, Filisur - Reichenau-Tamins (both single tracked, electrified, 1000 mm gauge)


  • Switzerland
    • At Untervaz (industrial branch line, single tracked and non-electrifed, combined 1005 mm and 1435 mm gauge)
    • Between Bad Ragaz and Maienfeld (double tracked, electrified, 1435 mm gauge)
  • Liechtensteinmarker and Switzerlandmarker
  • Austria and Switzerland
    • A total of two bridges of the Internationale Rheinregulierungsbahn (both single tracked, electrified, 750 mm gauge)
    • Between Lustenaumarker and St. Margrethenmarker (single tracked, electrified)


  • Germany
    • Between Konstanz Hbf and Konstanz-Petershausen (single tracked, electrified)
  • Switzerland
    • Between Etzwillen and Hemishofen (single tracked, non electrified, line closed for traffic)
    • Between Feuerthalen and Schaffhausenmarker (single tracked, electrified)
    • Between Dachsen and Neuhausen am Rheinfallmarker (single tracked, electrified)
    • Between Eglisaumarker and Hüntwangen-Will (single tracked, electrified)
  • Switzerland and Germany
  • Switzerland

Upper Rhine

  • France and Germany
    • Between Huningue and Weil am Rhein (single tracked, destroyed in WWII)
    • Between Chalampé and Neuenburg (single tracked, electrified, freight only - passenger service only on weekends)
    • Between Neuf-Brisach and Breisach (single tracked, destroyed in WW2)
    • Between Strasbourgmarker and Kehlmarker (single tracked, electrified, soon to be double tracked again)
    • Between Rœschwoogmarker and Rastattmarker-Wintersdorf (double tracked, used as street bridge since 1949, line closed 1960, rails were preserved for strategic purpose until 1999)
  • Germany
    • Between Karlsruhemarker-Maxau and Wörth am Rheinmarker-Maximiliansau (double tracked, electrified)
    • Between Germersheimmarker and Philippsburgmarker (single tracked, electrified)
    • Between Ludwigshafenmarker and Mannheimmarker (four tracks, electrified)
    • Between Wormsmarker-Brücke and Hofheim (double tracked, electrified)
    • Between Mainz-Süd and Mainz-Gustavsburg (double tracked, electrified)
    • Between Mainz-Nord and Wiesbaden-Ost (double tracked, electrified)

Middle Rhine

  • Germany
    • Between Rüdesheim/Geisenheim and Münster-Sarmsheim/Ockenheim (double tracked, destroyed in WW2)
    • Between Koblenz Hbf and Niederlahnstein (double tracked, electrified)
    • Between Koblenz-Lützel and Neuwied (double tracked, electrified)
    • Ludendorff Bridgemarker between Sinzig/Bad Bodendorf and Unkel (double tracked, destroyed in WW2)

Lower Rhine

  • Germany
    • Two bridges at Cologne:
    • Between Neuss-Rheinpark Center and Düsseldorf-Hamm (four tracks, electrified)
    • Between Rheinhausen-Ost and Duisburg-Hochfeld Süd (double tracked, electrified)
    • Between Moers and Duisburg-Beeck (single tracked (formerly double tracked), electrified, freight only)
    • Between Büderich and Wesel (double tracked, destroyed in WWII)

  • Netherlands (in the delta, the river splits and its name changes often)

The bridges at Huningue, Rastatt, Rüdesheim (Hindenburgbrücke) and Remagen (Ludendorffbrücke), were built for strategic military reasons only, in order to allow the Imperial German Army and later on, the Wehrmacht, to quickly transport forces by rail to Germany's western border in the event of a war with France. Unlike other bridges built for the same purpose, such as the ones at Koblenz or Cologne, these bridges were of almost no use in peacetime and thus, were never rebuilt, after their destruction during the last months of World War II, except for the one at Rastatt, which was used to supply units of the French Army stationed in the area.


Tributaries from source to mouth:



Former distributaries

Order: panning North to South through the Western Netherlands:


Order: upstream to downstream:

Geologic history

Alpine orogeny

The Rhine flows from the Alps to the North Sea Basin; the geography and geology of its present day watershed has been developing, since the Alpine orogeny began.

In southern Europe, the stage was set in the Triassic Period of the Mesozoic Era, with the opening of the Tethys Ocean, between the Eurasian and African tectonic plates, between about 240 MBP and 220 MBP (million years before present). The present Mediterranean Seamarker descends from this somewhat larger Tethys sea. At about 180 MBP, in the Jurassic Period, the two plates reversed direction and began to compress the Tethys floor, causing it to be subducted under Eurasia and pushing up the edge of the latter plate in the Alpine Orogeny of the Oligocene and Miocene Periods. Several microplates were caught in the squeeze and rotated or were pushed laterally, generating the individual features of Mediterranean geography: Iberia pushed up the Pyreneesmarker; Italymarker, the Alps, and Anatoliamarker, moving west, the mountains of Greecemarker and the islands. The compression and orogeny continue today, as shown by the ongoing raising of the mountains a small amount each year and the active volcanoes.

In northern Europe, the North Sea Basin had formed during the Triassic and Jurassic periods and continued to be a sediment receiving basin since. In between the zone of Alpine orogeny and North Sea Basin subsidence, remained highlands resulting from an earlier orogeny (Variscan), such as the Ardennesmarker, Eifel and Vosgesmarker.

From the Eocene onwards, the ongoing Alpine orogeny caused a N-S rift system to develop in this zone. The main elements of this rift are the Upper Rhine Graben, in southeast Germanymarker and eastern Francemarker and the Lower Rhine Embayment, in northwest Germanymarker and the southeastern Netherlandsmarker. By the time of the Miocene, a river system had developed in the Upper Rhine Graben, that continued northward and is considered the first Rhine river. At that time, it did not yet carry discharge from the Alps; instead, the watersheds of the Rhone and Danube drained the northern flanks of the Alps.

Stream capture

The watershed of the Rhine reaches into the Alps today, but it did not start out that way. In the Miocene period, the watershed of the Rhine reached south, only to the Eifel and Westerwaldmarker hills, about north of the Alps. The Rhine then had the Siegmarker as a tributary, but not yet the Moselle Rivermarker. The northern Alps were then drained by the Danube.

Through stream capture, the Rhine extended its watershed southward. By the Pliocene period, the Rhine had captured streams down to the Vosges Mountainsmarker, including the Mosel, the Mainmarker and the Neckarmarker. The northern Alps were then drained by the Rhone. By the early Pleistocene period, the Rhine had captured most of its current Alpine watershed from the Rhône, including the Aarmarker. Since that time, the Rhine has added the watershed above Lake Constancemarker (Vorderrhein, Hinterrhein Rivermarker, Alpenrhein; captured from the Rhône), the upper reaches of the Main, beyond Schweinfurtmarker and the Vosges Mountains, captured from the Meuse Rivermarker, to its watershed.

Around 2.5 million years ago (11,600 years ago) was the geological period of the Ice Ages. Since approximately 600,000 years ago, six major Ice Ages have occurred, in which sea level dropped and much of the continental margins became exposed. In the Early Pleistocene, the Rhine followed a course to the northwest, through the present North Sea. During the so-called Anglian glaciation (~450,000 yr BP, marine oxygen isotope stage 12), the northern part of the present North Sea was blocked by the ice and a large lake developed, that overflowed through the English Channel. This caused the Rhine's course to be diverted through the English Channel. Since then, during glacial times, the river mouth was located offshore of Brest, Francemarker and rivers, like the Thames and the Seinemarker, became tributaries to the Rhine. During interglacials, when sea level rose to approximately the present level, the Rhine built deltas, in what is now the Netherlands.

The last glacial ran from (~74,000 BP = Before Present), until the end of the Pleistocene (~11,600 BP). In northwest Europe, it saw two very cold phases, peaking around 70,000 BP and around 29,000–24,000 BP. The last phase slightly predates the global last ice age maximum (Last Glacial Maximum). During this time, the lower Rhine flowed roughly west through the Netherlands and extended to the southwest, through the English Channel and finally, to the Atlantic Ocean. The English Channel, the Irish Channel and most of the North Seamarker were dry land, mainly because sea level was approximately lower than today.

Most of the Rhine's current course was not under the ice during the last Ice Age; although, its source must still have been a glacier. A tundra, with Ice Age flora and fauna, stretched across middle Europe, from Asia to the Atlantic Ocean. Such was the case during the Last Glacial Maximum, ca. 22,000–14,000 yr BP, when ice-sheets covered Scandinavia, the Baltics, Scotland and the Alps, but left the space between as open tundra. The loess or wind-blown dust over that tundra, settled in and around the Rhine Valley, contributing to its current agricultural usefulness.

End of the Last Ice Age

As northwest Europe slowly began to warm up from 22,000 years ago onward, frozen subsoil and expanded alpine glaciers began to thaw and fall-winter snow covers melted in spring. Much of the discharge was routed to the Rhine and its downstream extension. Rapid warming and changes of vegetation, to open forest, began about 13,000 BP. By 9000 BP, Europe was fully forested. With globally shrinking ice-cover, ocean water levels rose and the English Channel and North Sea re-inundated. Meltwater, adding to the ocean and land subsidence, drowned the former coasts of Europe transgressionally.

About 11000 yr ago, the Rhine estuary was in the Dover Strait. There remained some dry land in the southern North Seamarker, connecting mainland Europe to Britain. About 9000 yr ago, that last divide was overtopped / dissected. These events were well within the residence of man.

Since 7500 yr ago, a situation with tides and currents, very similar to present has existed. Rates of sea-level rise had dropped so far, that natural sedimentation by the Rhine and coastal processes together, could compensate the transgression by the sea; in the last 7000 years, the coast line was roughly at the same location. In the southern North Seamarker, due to ongoing tectonic subsidence, the sea-level is still rising, at the rate of about per century (1 metre or 39 inches in last 3000 years).

About 7000-5000 BP, a general warming encouraged migration up the Danube and down the Rhine, by peoples to the east, perhaps encouraged by the sudden massive expansion of the Black Seamarker, as the Mediterranean Seamarker burst into it through the Bosporusmarker, about 7500 BP.

Holocene delta

At the begin of the Holocene (~11,700 years ago), the Rhine occupied its Late-Glacial valley. As a meandering river, it reworked its ice-age braidplain. As sea-level continued to rise in the Netherlands, the formation of the Holocene Rhine-Meuse delta began (~8,000 years ago). Coeval absolute sea-level rise and tectonic subsidence have strongly influenced delta evolution. Other factors of importance to the shape of the delta are the local tectonic activities of the Peel Boundary Fault, the substrate and geomorphology, as inherited from the Last Glacial and the coastal-marine dynamics, such as barrier and tidal inlet formations.

Since ~3000 yr BP (= years Before Present), human impact is seen in the delta. As a result of increasing land clearance (Bronze Age agriculture), in the upland areas (central Germanymarker), the sediment load of the Rhine River has strongly increased and delta growth has sped up. This caused increased flooding and sedimentation, ending peat formation in the delta. The shifting of river channels to new locations, on the floodplain (termed avulsion), was the main process distributing sediment across the subrecent delta. Over the past 6000 years, approximately 80 avulsions have occurred. Direct human impact in the delta started with peat mining, for salt and fuel, from Roman times onward. This was followed by embankment, of the major distributaries and damming of minor distributaries, which took place in the 11–13th century AD. Thereafter, canals were dug, bends were short cut and groynes were built, to prevent the river's channels from migrating or silting up.

At present, the branches Waal and Nederrijn-Lek discharge to the North Sea, through the former Meuse estuary, near Rotterdam. The river IJssel branch flows to the north and enters the IJsselmeermarker, formerly the Zuider Zeemarker brackish lagoon; however, since 1932, a freshwater lake. The discharge of the Rhine is divided among three branches: the River Waal (6/9 of total discharge), the River Nederrijn - Lek (2/9 of total discharge) and the River IJssel (1/9 of total discharge). This discharge distribution has been maintained since 1709, by river engineering works, including the digging of the Pannerdens canal and since the 20th century, with the help of weirs in the Nederrijn river.



During the Middle Paleolithic (ca 100,000–30,000 BP), Western Europe, including the Rhine and Danube Valleys, was occupied by the Neanderthal, to which belonged the Mousterian culture of stone tools. Mousterian sites are not considered intrusive. It is believed that the Neanderthals may have evolved from the preceding Homo erectus in the vicinity of the glaciers, but the question has by no means been settled definitively.

Neanderthal sites are denser to the south, where open forest prevailed and the limestone terrain offered more caves as dwellings. The Rhine ran through an open tundra, where Neanderthals hunted big game, such as the rhinoceros and the woolly mammoth. Accordingly, open air Mousterian sites have been discovered in and around the Rhine valley.


Before approximately 5600 BC, the Rhine Valley, along with most of Europe, was occupied by Cro-Magnon man, in the Mesolithic stage of cultural development; that is, they hunted and gathered, but owned a larger and more specialized tool kit than the Paleolithic people, knew more about the plants and animals, and even may have kept a few animals.

Iron Age

During the early Iron Age, both banks of the Rhine were inhabited by Celtic tribes. However, in the beginning of the Pre-Roman Iron Age (ca 600 BC), the Proto-Germanic tribes crossed the Weser River and the Aller, expanding the whole distance to the banks of the Rhine. This expansion is shown archaeologically in the form of the Jastorf culture. From ca 500 BC onwards, the lower Rhine, not the Weser or the Aller, would increasingly mark the border between the Celtic and Germanic tribes.

Historic and military relevance

The human history of the Rhine begins with the writers of the late Roman Republic and early Roman Empire. Nearly all the classical sources mention the Rhine and the name is always the same: Rhenus in Latin or Rheonis in Greek. The Romans viewed the Rhine as the outermost border of civilization and reason, beyond which were mythical creatures and wild Germanic tribesmen, not far themselves from being beasts of the wilderness they inhabited. As it was a wilderness, the Romans were eager to explore it. This view is typified by Res Gestae Divi Augusti, a long public inscription of Augustus, in which he boasts of his exploits; including, sending an expeditionary fleet north of the Rheinmouth, to Old Saxony and Jutland, which he claims no Roman had ever done.

Throughout the long history of Rome, the Rhine was considered the border between Gaul or the Celts and the Germanic peoples; although, it should be noted that the historical ethnonyms do not carry their modern ethno-linguistic definitions. Typical of this point of view is a quote from Maurus Servius Honoratus, Commentary on the Aeneid of Vergil (On Book 8 Line 727):
"(Rhenus) fluvius Galliae, qui Germanos a Gallia dividit"
"(The Rhein is a) river of Gaul, which divides the Germanic people from Gaul."

The Rhine, in the earlier sources, was always a Gallic river.

As the Roman Empire grew, the Romans found it necessary to station troops along the Rhine. They kept two army groups there (exercitus), the inferior or "lower", and the superior or "upper", which is the first distinction between upper Germania and lower Germania. It originally probably only meant upstream and downstream ("Niederrhein" and "Oberrhein", respectively; see the map above).

The Romans kept eight legions in five bases along the Rhine. The actual number of legions present at any base or in all, depended on whether a state or threat of war existed. Between about 14 AD and 180 AD, the assignment of legions was as follows: for the army of Germania Inferior, two legions at Vetera (Xantenmarker), I Germanica and XX Valeria (Pannonian troops); two legions at oppidum Ubiorum ("town of the Ubii"), which was renamed to Colonia Agrippina, descending to Cologne, V Alaudae, a Celtic legion recruited from Gallia Narbonensis and XXI, possibly a Galatian legion from the other side of the empire.

For the army of Germania Superior: one legion, II Augusta, at Argentoratum (Strasbourgmarker); and one, XIII Gemina, at Vindonissa (Windischmarker). Vespasian had commanded II Augusta, before his promotion to imperator. In addition, were a double legion, XIV and XVI, at Moguntiacum (Mainzmarker).

The two originally military districts, of Germania Inferior and Germania Superior, came to influence the surrounding tribes, who later respected the distinction in their alliances and confederations. For example, the upper Germanic peoples combined into the Alemanni. For a time, the Rhine ceased to be a border, when the Franks crossed the river and occupied Roman-dominated Celtic Gaul, as far as Parismarker.

The first urban settlement, on the grounds of what is today the centre of Cologne, along the Rhine, was Oppidum Ubiorum, which was founded in 38 BC, by the Ubii, a Germanic tribe. Cologne became acknowledged, as a city by the Romans in 50 AD, by the name of Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium. Considerable Roman remains can be found in contemporary Cologne, especially near the wharf area, along the Rhine, where a notable discovery, of a 1900 year old Roman boat, was made on the Rhine banks, in late 2007.

Subsequently, language changes began to play a major political role. West Germanic dissimilated into Low Saxon; Low Franconian languages and High German languages, roughly along the old lines. Perhaps, it had been doing so all along. Charlemagne united all the Franks in the Holy Roman Empire, but he did not rule over a people of uniform language. After his death, the empire split, more or less along language lines, with the Low Franconian being spoken in the Netherlands and the Low Saxon and High German, in what became Germany. The Romanized Franks became the French. The Rhine once again became a political border.

The Rhine as a border has been and still is a mystical and political symbol. German authors and composers have written reams about it. During World War II, it was still considered the sacred border, of Germany and still was a defensive barrier.

The Rhine is closely linked to many important historical events — particularly military ones — as well as myths. For example:
  • The Battle of the Teutoburg Forestmarker, which finally established the Rhine as the northern frontier of the Roman Empire.
  • It was a historic object of frontier trouble, between Francemarker and Germanymarker. Establishing "natural borders" on the Rhine was a long term goal of French foreign policy, since the Middle Ages; though, the language border was - and is - far more to the west. French leaders, such as Louis XIV and Napoleon Bonaparte, tried with varying degrees of success to annex lands west of the Rhine. The Confederation of the Rhinemarker was established by Napoleon, as a French client republic, in 1806 and lasted until 1814, during which time it served as a significant source of resources and military manpower for the First French Empire. In 1840, the Rhine crisis evolved, because the French prime minister, Adolphe Thiers, started to talk about the Rhine border. In response, the poem and song, Die Wacht am Rhein (The Watch on the Rhine), was composed at that time, calling for the defense of the western bank of the Rhine against France. During the Franco-Prussian War, it rose to the de-facto status of a national anthem in Germany. The song remained popular in World War I and was used in the movie Casablanca.
  • At the end of World War I, the Rhineland was subject to the Treaty of Versailles. This decreed that it would be occupied by the allies, until 1935 and after that, it would be a demilitarised zone, with the German army forbidden to enter. The Treaty of Versailles and this particular provision, in general, caused much resentment in Germany and is often cited as helping Adolf Hitler's rise to power. The allies left the Rheinland, in 1930 and the German army re-occupied it in 1936, which was enormously popular in Germany. Although the allies could probably have prevented the re-occupation, Britain and France were not inclined to do so, a feature of their policy of appeasement to Hitler.
  • In World War II, it was recognised that the Rhine would present a formidable natural obstacle to the invasion of Germany, by the western allies. The Rhine bridge at Arnhemmarker, immortalized in the book, A Bridge Too Far and the film, was a central focus of the battle for Arnhem, during the failed Operation Market Garden of September 1944. The bridges at Nijmegenmarker, over the Waal distributary of the Rhine, were also an objective of Operation Market Garden. In a separate operation, the Ludendorff Bridgemarker, crossing the Rhine at Remagenmarker, became famous, when U.S. forces were able to capture it intact — much to their own surprise — after the Germans failed to demolish it. This also became the subject of a film, The Bridge at Remagen.
  • In November 1986, fire broke out in a chemical factory near Baselmarker, Switzerlandmarker. Chemicals soon made their way into the river and caused pollution problems. About 30 tons of chemicals were discharged into the river. Locals were told to stay indoors, as foul smells were present in the area. The pollutants included pesticides, mercury, and other highly poisonous agricultural chemicals.
  • Mainz Cathedralmarker — this more than 1,000-year-old cathedral is seat to the Bishop of Mainz. It holds significant historic value, as the seat of the once politically powerful secular prince-archbishop within the Holy Roman Empire. It houses historical funerary monuments and religious artifacts.
  • The Nibelungenlied, an epic poem in Middle High German, tells the saga of Siegfried/Sigurd, who killed a dragon on the Drachenfels marker ("dragons rock"), near Bonnmarker at the Rhine and of the Burgundians and their court at Worms, at the Rhine and Kriemhild's golden treasure, which was thrown into the Rhine by Hagen.
  • Das Rheingold — inspired by the Nibelungenlied, the Rhine is one of the settings for the first opera of Richard Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen. The action of the epic opens and ends underneath the Rhine, where three Rheinmaidens swim and protect a hoard of gold.
  • The Loreleymarker/Lorelei is a rock on the eastern bank of the Rhine, that is associated with several legendary tales, poems and songs. The river spot has a reputation for being a challenge for inexperienced navigators.
  • Many historic castles are located along the Rhine.

See also


  1. Berendsen and Stouthamer (2001)
  2. Ménot et al. (2006)
  3. Cohen et al. (2002)
  4. Hoffmann et al. (2007)
  5. Gouw and Erkens (2007)
  6. " Roman barge under Cologne to reveal shipping history - Feature", EarthTimes, 9 December 2007, Accessed 28 July 2009


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