Vistula ( ; ), is the longest and one of the most
important rivers in Poland at
1,047 km (651 miles) in length.
The watershed area of
the Vistula is 194,424 km² (75,067 square miles), of which
168,699 km² (65,135 sq. miles) lies within Poland (covering
over half the area of the country).
Vistula has its source at Barania Góra in the south of Poland, 1220 meters above sea level in the Silesian Beskids (western part of Carpathian
Mountains) where it begins with the White Little Vistula
(Biała Wisełka) and the Black Little Vistula (Czarna
Wisełka). It then continues to flow over the vast
Polish plains, passing several large Polish cities along its way,
including Kraków, Sandomierz, Warszawa, Płock, Włocławek, Toruń, Bydgoszcz, Świecie, Grudziądz, Tczew and Gdańsk. It empties into the Vistula Lagoon or directly into the Gdańsk Bay of the Baltic
Sea with a delta and several
branches (Leniwka, Przekop, Śmiała Wisła, Martwa Wisła, Nogat and Szkarpawa).
Origins of the name Vistula
The name was first recorded by Pliny
in AD 77 in his Natural
. He uses Vistula (4.52, 4.89) with an alternative
spelling, Vistillus (3.06). The Vistula River ran into the Mare Suebicum, which is today known as the Baltic Sea.
root of the name Vistula
. The diminutive
endings -ila, -ula, were used in many
Indo-European language groups, but also in Latin (see Ursula
In writing about the Vistula River and its peoples, Ptolemy
uses the Greek spelling, "Ouistoula". Other
ancient sources spell it "Istula". Pomponius Mela refers to the
"Visula" (Book 3) and Ammianus Marcellinus to the "Bisula" (Book
22), both of which names lack the -t-. The definitive reference is
probably Jordanes (Getica 5 & 17), who uses "Viscla". The
Anglo-Saxon poem Widsith
refers to it as the
"Wistla". 12th century Polish chronicler Wincenty Kadłubek
called the river
from the Lithuanian "vanduo", meaning "water".
in his Annales seu
called the Vistula "White river": "a
nationibus orientalibus Polonis vicinis, ab aquae condorem Alba
aqua ... nominatur".
The reaches of the Vistula are composed of three stretches: upper,
from its sources to the city of Sandomierz; centre, from Sandomierz
to the mouth of Narew and Bug; and bottom, from mouth of Narew till
Vistula's own delta at the Baltic.
The Vistula river basin covers 194,424 km² (in Poland 168,700 km²);
its average altitude rising to 270 m above sea level. In addition,
the majority of its river basin (55%) is located at heights of 100
to 200 m above sea level; over 3/4 of the river basin ranges from
100 - 300 m in altitude. The highest point of the river basin lies at
2655 m (Gerlach Peak in the Tatra mountains).
One of the features of the river basin of
the Vistula is its asymmetry - in great measure resulting from the
tilting direction of the Central-European Lowland toward the
north-west, the direction of the flow of glacial waters, as well as
considerable predisposition of its older base. The asymmetry of the
river basin (right-hand to left-hand side) is 73-27%.
The most recent glaciation of the Pleistocene
epoch, which ended around 10,000 BC,
is called the Vistulian
or Weichselian glaciation in regard to north-central
Major cities and towns along Vistula tributaries
||Sanka, Rudawa, Prądnik, Dłubnia, Wilga (most are canalized
|Solec nad Wisłą
||Żerań canal (incl. several
||Słupianka, Rosica, Brzeźnica, Skrwa Lewa, Skrwa Prawa
|Dobrzyń nad Wisłą
Delta of the Vistula River
forms a wide delta called the Żuławy around the town of Biała Góra near Sztum, about 50
km from the mouth, splitting into two branches: the Leniwka (left)
and the Nogat (right).
In the city of Gdańsk the Head of the
Leniwka branch separates again into the Szkarpawa branch, for the
purpose of flood control closed to the east with a lock. The
so-called Dead Wisła divides again into the Przegalinie branch
flowing into Gdańsk Bay. Until the 14th century the Vistula was
divided into a main eastern branch, the Elbląg Vistula, and the
smaller western branch, the Gdańsk Vistula. Since 1371 the Vistula
of Gdańsk is the river's main artery. After the flood in 1840 an
additional branch formed called the Bold Vistula. In 1890 through
1895, additional waterworks were carried out up the Świbna.
Kwidzyń the Vistula is divided at present into two separate
branches that constitute the river
List of right and left tributaries with a nearby city, from source
Global Warming and the Flooding of the Vistula Delta
According to flood studies carried out by
Professor Zbigniew Pruszak, who is the co-author of the scientific
paper Implications of SLR and further studies carried out
by scientists attending Poland’s Final International ASTRA
Conference, and predictions stated by climate scientists at the
climate change pre-summit in Copenhagen, it is highly likely most of the Vistula Delta
region (which is below sea level) will be flooded due to the sea
level rise caused by climate change by 2100.
The history of the River Vistula and her valley spans over 2
million years. The river is connected to the geological period
called the Quaternary
, in which distinct
cooling of the climate took place. In the last million years, an
ice sheet entered the area of Poland eight times, bringing along
with it changes of reaches of the river. In warmer periods, when
the ice sheet retreated, the Vistula deepened and widened its
valley. The river took its present shape within the last 14,000
years, after complete recession of the Scandinavian ice sheet from
the area. At present, along the Vistula valley, erosion of the
banks and collecting of new deposits are still occurring.
As the principal river of Poland, the Vistula is also located in
the centre of Europe. Three principal geographical and geological
land masses of the continent meet in her river basin: the lowland
Eastern European shield, the area of uplands and low mountains of
Western Europe, and the Alpine zone of high mountains to which both
the Alps and the Carpathians belong.
The Vistula begins in the
Carpathian mountains. The run and character of the river was shaped
by ice sheets flowing down from the Scandinavian Peninsula. The
last ice sheet entered the area of Poland about 20,000 years ago.
During periods of warmer weather, the ancient Vistula, "Pra-Wisła",
searched for the shortest way to the sea - thousands of years ago
it flowed into the North Sea somewhere at the latitude of
contemporary Scotland. The climate of the Vistula valley, its
plants, animals and its very character changed considerably during
the process of glacial retreat.Image:Wodospad Wiselka
Biala.jpg|Biała WisełkaImage:CzarnyStawZakopane.jpg|Lake Morskie Oko, White Dunajec
SpringsImage:Wisla powodz 2004.jpg|Vistula
flooding south of Warsaw, 2004Image:Weichsel in Graudenz.jpg|Vistula near
Vistula is navigable from the Baltic Sea to Bydgoszcz (where the Bydgoszcz
Canal joins the river).
The Vistula can accommodate
modest river vessels of CEMT
class II. Further
upstream the river depth lessens. Although a project was undertaken to
increase the traffic-carrying capacity of the river upstream of
Warsaw by building a number of locks in and around Krakow, this project was not extended further, so that
navigability of the Vistula remains limited.
of the river would increase considerably if a restoration of the
East-West connection via the Narew
waterways were considered. The shifting economic importance of
parts of Europe may make this option more likely.
Protoslavic tribes (Lusatia and Przeworsk Culture) occupied large
parts of the Vistula Basin in the first millennium BCE. Genetic
analysis indicates that there has been an unbroken genetic
continuity of the inhabitants over the last 3,500 years, which
would suggest that Polish tribes lived here for a long time and
successfully defended against distant invaders, such as Suebi
though the Romans do not appear to have had direct contact with the
regions between Odra-Nysa Łużycka and the Bug, the Vistula Basin
along with the lands of the Rhine, Danube, Elbe, and Oder came to be called Magna
Germania by Roman authors of the first century AD.
Ptolemy, in the second century AD, would describe the Vistula as
the border between Germania
Death of princess Wanda by
Maksymilian Piotrowski, 1861.
Tacitus is another source regarding information on the early
inhabitants of the Vistula. However, he makes no secret that many
of the tribes to the east of the Vistula were somewhat shrouded in
mystery. For example, when describing the Venethi
he wrote that he was not sure if he
should call them Germans, since they had settlements and they
fought on foot, or rather Sarmatians
since they have some similar customs to them.
Vistula river used to be connected to the Dnieper River, and thence to the Black Sea via the Augustów Canal, a technological marvel with numerous sluices contributing to its aesthetic appeal.
the first waterway in Central Europe
to provide a direct link between the two major rivers, the Vistula
and the Neman.
provided a link with the Black Sea to the south through the Oginski Canal, Dnieper River, Berezina Canal, and Dvina River. The
Baltic-Sea–Vistula–Dnieper–Black-Sea route with its rivers was one
of the most ancient trade routes, the Amber
Road, on which amber and other items were traded from Northern Europe to Greece, Asia, Egypt, and
The Vistula estuary was settled by Slavs in the 7th and 8th
century. Based on archeological and linguistic findings, it has
been postulated that these settlers moved northward along the
Vistula river. This however contradicts another hypothesis
supported by some researchers saying the Veleti
moved westward from the Vistula delta.
A number of West Slavic Polish tribes
formed small dominions beginning
in the 8th century, some of which coalesced later into larger ones.
Among the tribes listed in the Bavarian Geographer
's 9th century
document were the Vistulans
) in southern Poland. Kraków and Wiślica were their main centres.
Many Polish legends
are connected with the
Vistula and the beginnings of Polish statehood. One of the most
enduring is that about princess Wanda
co nie chciała Niemca
(who rejected the German
According to the most popular variant, popularized by the 15th
century historian Jan Długosz
Wanda, daughter of King Krak
, became queen
of the Poles upon her father's death. She refused to marry a German
prince Rytigier (Rüdiger), who took offence and invaded Poland, but
was repelled. Wanda however committed suicide
, drowning in the Vistula river, to ensure he
would not invade her country again.
Main trading artery
For hundreds of years the river was one of the main trading
arteries of Poland, and the castles that line its banks were highly
prized possessions. In the early period of the Polish state
(10th–13th century), the most important goods shipped over the
Vistula route were salt
, and building
In the 14th century the lower Vistula was controlled by the
, invited in 1226 by
Konrad I of Masovia
to help him
fight the pagan Prussians on the border of his lands. In 1308 the
Teutonic Knights captured the Gdańsk
and murdered the population. Since then the event is
known as the Gdańsk slaughter
. The Order had
inherited Mewe from
Sambor II, thus gaining a foothold on the
left bank of the Vistula.
Many granaries and storehouses,
built in the 14th century, line the banks of the Vistula.
15th century the city of Gdańsk gained great importance in the Baltic area as a
centre of merchants and trade and as a port city.
this time the surrounding lands were inhabited by Pomeranians
, Gdańsk soon became a starting point
for German settlement of the largely fallow Vistula land.
The most intensive development of the Vistula as a trade route came
from the 15th to 18th century, during which period a variety of
hydraulic structures were put up, as well as embankments to provide
flood protection. Between 1491 and 1618, the volume of trade grew
by twenty times and peaked in 1618. The yearly amount of grain
trade on the Vistula river took the following weight in tons: 1491
- 14.000; 1537 - 23.000; 1563 - 150.000; 1618 - 310.000.
In the 16th century most of the grain exported was leaving Poland
through Gdańsk, which because of its location at the terminal point
of the Vistula and its tributaries waterway and of its Baltic
seaport trade role became the wealthiest, most highly developed (by
far the largest center of crafts and manufacturing) and most
autonomous of the Polish cities. Other towns were negatively
affected by Gdańsk's near-monopoly in foreign trade. During the reign of
Poland ruled two main Baltic
Sea ports: Gdańsk controlling the Vistula river trade
controlling the Western Dvina
Both cities were among the largest in the country.
Around 70% the exports from Gdańsk were of grain.
Grain was also the largest export commodity of the Polish–Lithuanian
. The volume of traded grain can be considered a
good and well-measured proxy for the economic growth of the
About 90% of towns had both manufacturing and commercial
activities, which mainly served the local markets. Only a few towns
were able to perform long-distance and international trade.
were seaports like Gdańsk, Vistula-ports like Warsaw, Kraków and Toruń and finally those lying at crossroads of large
overland routes, like Poznań, Lviv, Zamość and Lublin.
The owner of a folwark
usually signed a
with the merchants of Gdańsk, who
controlled 80% of this inland trade, to ship the grain north to
on the Baltic Sea. Many rivers
in the Commonwealth were used for shipping purposes, including the
Vistula. The river had a relatively well-developed infrastructure,
with river ports
. Most river shipping travelled north,
southward transport being less profitable, and barges and rafts
were often sold off in Gdańsk for lumber.
end of the 18th century the third partition of Poland, between
Prussia, Austria, and Russia, put an end to the economic importance of the
Minor navigation improvements were undertaken only
locally, in Prussia and in Austria. The major 19th-century
improvement was the construction of the Bydgoszcz Canal, which
connected the Vistula with the Oder drainage area. In order to arrest
recurrent flooding on the lower Vistula, the Prussian government in
1889-95 constructed an artificial channel about 12 km. east of
Gdańsk (German name: Danzig) – known as the Vistula Cut
(German: Weichseldurchstich; Polish: Przekop
Wisły) – that acted as a huge sluice, diverting much of the
Vistula flow directly into the Baltic.
As a result, the historic Vistula channel
through Gdańsk lost much of its flow, and was known thereafter as
the Dead Vistula (German: Tote Weichsel
). German states got complete control of the
region in 1795-1812 (see: Partitions of Poland
), as well as
during the World Wars, in 1914-1918 and 1939-1945.
1867 to 1917, the Russian tsarist administration called the
of Poland the Vistula
land after the collapse of the January Uprising (1863-1865).
75% of the territory of interbellum Poland was drained northward
into the Baltic Sea by the Vistula (total area of drainage basin of the Vistula within
boundaries of the Second Polish Republic was 180 300 km²), the
Niemen (51 600 km²), the Odra
(46 700 km²) and the Daugava (10 400
the decisive battle of the Polish–Soviet War Battle of Warsaw (sometimes referred
to as the Miracle at the Vistula), was fought as Red Army forces commanded by Mikhail Tukhachevsky approached the
Polish capital of Warsaw and nearby Modlin Fortress situated on the mouth of the Vistula.
World War II
The Polish September
included battles over control of the mouth of the
Vistula, and of the city of Gdańsk, so close to the river delta.
During the Invasion of
, after the initial battles in Pomerelia
, the remains of the Polish Army of
Pomerania withdrew to the southern bank of the Vistula.
defending Toruń for several
days, the army withdrew further south under pressure of the overall
strained strategic situation, and took part in the main battle of Bzura.
The 1944 Warsaw Uprising
with the expectation that the Soviet forces, who had arrived in the
course of their offensive and were waiting on the other side of the
Vistula River in full force, would help in the battle for Warsaw.
However the Soviets betrayed the Poles, stopping their advance at
the Vistula and branding the insurgents as criminals in radio
- Państwowy Instytut Geologiczny (State Geological
Institute), Warsaw, "Geologiczna historia Wisły"
- R. Mierzejewski, Państwowa Wyższa Szkoła Filmowa, Telewizyjna i
Teatralna im. Leona Schillera w Łodzi, Narodziny rzeki
- De Origine et Situ Germanorum by Cornelius
- Augustów Canal on UNESCO Tentative List of Cultural
- The Augustów Canal at www.suwalszczyzna.pl
- a - p. 6, b - p. 7, c - p. 5, d - p. 5
- Kraj stracił m.in. kontrolę nad dolną Wisłą, a tym samym
dostęp do morza i głównych portów - Gdańska i Elbląga. Kolejne dwa
rozbiory pogłębiły kryzys, zastój w handlu i rolnictwie ujemnie
wpłynął na żeglugę wiślaną.
- The name of the kingdom was changed to Vistula Land, which
was reduced to a tsarist province; it lost all autonomy and
separate administrative institutions. p. 19