The Rhine is a river that flows from Grisons in the eastern Swiss Alps to the North Sea coast in the Netherlands and is the twelfth longest river in Europe, at about 1,233 km (766 mi), with an average discharge of more than 2,000 m3/s (71,000 cu ft/s). 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 and navigable waterway carrying 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.
Length and discovery:
The Rhine is one of the longest and most important rivers in Europe. Until 1932 the generally accepted length of the Rhine was 1,230 kilometres (764 miles). In 1932, however, the German encyclopedia Knaurs Lexikon stated the length as 1,320 kilometres (820 miles), presumably a typographical transposition error. After this number was placed into the authoritative Brockhaus Enzyklopädie, it became generally accepted and found its way into numerous textbooks and official publications. The error was discovered in 2010, and the Dutch Rijkswaterstaat confirms the length as 1,232 kilometres (766 miles).
Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria and Germany:
The source of the river is generally considered north of Lai da Tuma (Tomasee) on Vorderrhein, although its southern tributary Rein da Medel is actually longer before its confluence with the Vorderrhein near Disentis. From Reichenau, the Rhine flows east as the Alpenrhein or "Alpine Rhine", passes Chur turning north to form another 20 km further north the border between Liechtenstein and then Austria, on the east side and Canton of St. Gallen of Switzerland, on the west side. As an effect of human work it empties into Lake Constance on Austrian territory and not on the border that follows its old natural river bed.
It emerges from Lake Constance, flows generally westward, as the Hochrhein, passes the Rhine Falls, and is joined by the river Aar. The Aar more than doubles the Rhine's water discharge, to an average of nearly 1,000 m3/s (35,000 cu ft/s). The Aar also contains the waters from the 4,274 m (14,022 ft) summit of Finsteraarhorn, the highest point of the Rhine basin. The Rhine roughly forms the boundary with Germany from Lake Constance with the exceptions of the canton of Schaffhausen and a part of the canton of Zürich, until it turns north at the so-called Rhine knee at Basel, leaving Switzerland.
The Rhine is the longest river in Germany. It is here that the Rhine encounters some of its main tributaries, such as the Neckar, the Main and, later, the Moselle, which contributes an average discharge of more than 300 m3/s (11,000 cu ft/s). Northeastern France drains to the Rhine via the Moselle; smaller rivers drain the Vosges and Jura Mountains, uplands. Most of Luxembourg and a very small part of Belgium also drain to the Rhine via the Moselle. As it approaches the Dutch border, the Rhine has an annual mean discharge of 2,290 m3/s (81,000 cu ft/s) and an average width of 400 m (1,300 ft).
The Dutch word for "Rhine" is "Rijn". The Rhine turns west and enters the Netherlands, where, together with the rivers Meuse and Scheldt, it forms the extensive Rhine-Meuse-Scheldt delta, one of the larger river deltas in western Europe. Crossing the border into the Netherlands at Spijk, close to Nijmegen and Arnhem, the Rhine is at its widest, although the river then splits into three main distributaries: the Waal River, Nederrijn ("Lower Rhine") and IJssel.
The High Rhine begins in Stein am Rhein at the western end of the Untersee. Unlike the Alpine Rhine and Upper Rhine, it flows to the west. It falls from 395 m to 252 m. Some stretches of the High Rhine between Stein am Rhein and Eglisau form the border between Switzerland on the South bank and Germany in the North. On other stretches, both sides are Swiss; in fact most of the Canton of Schaffhausen is on the North bank. Between Eglisau and Basel, the High Rhine consistenly forms the border.
The Rhine Falls are situated below Schaffhausen. It has an average water flow of 373 m³/s (mean summer discharge 700 m³/s) and is the second largest waterfall in Europe in terms of potential energy, after Dettifoss in Iceland. The High Rhine is characterized by numerous dams. On the few remaining natural sections, there are still several rapids.
In the centre of Basel, the first major city in the course of the stream, is located the "Rhine knee"; this is a major bend, where the overall direction of the Rhine changes from West to North. Here the High Rhine ends. Legally, the Central Bridge is the boundary between High and Upper Rhine. The river now flows North as Upper Rhine through the Upper Rhine Plain, which is about 300 km long and up to 40 km wide. The most important tributaries in this area are the Ill below of Strasbourg, the Neckar in Mannheim and the Main across from Mainz. In Mainz, the Rhine leaves the Upper Rhine Valley and flows through the Mainz Basin.
The Mainz Basin ends in Bingen am Rhein; the Rhine continues as "Middle Rhine" into the Rhine Gorge in the Rhenish Slate Mountains. In this sections the river falls from 77.4 m above sea level to 50.4 m. On the left, is located the mountain ranges of Hunsrück and Eifel, on the right Taunus and Westerwald. According to geologists, the characteristic narrow valley form was created by erosion by the river while the surrounding landscape was lifted (see water gap).
Major tributaries in this section are the Lahn and the Moselle. They join the Rhine near Koblenz, for the right and left respectively. Almost the entire length of the Middle Rhine River runs in the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate.
In Bonn, where the Sieg flows into the Rhine, the Rhine enters the North German Plain and turns into the Lower Rhine. The Lower Rhine falls from 50 m to 12 m. The main tributaries on this stretch are the Ruhr and the Lippe. Like the Upper Rhine, the Lower Rhine used to meander until engineering created a solid river bed. Because the levees are some distance from the river, at high tide the Lower Rhine has more room for widening than the Upper Rhine.
The Rhine-Meuse Delta, the most important natural region of the Netherlands begins near Millingen aan de Rijn, close to the Dutch-German border with the division of the Rhine into Waal and Nederrijn. Since the Rhine contributes most of the water, the shorter term Rhine Delta is commonly used. However, this name is also used for the river delta where the Rhine flows into Lake Constance, so it is clearer to call the larger one Rhine-Meuse delta, or even Rhine–Meuse–Scheldt delta, as the Scheldt ends in the same delta.
Length: 1,233 km (766 mi)
Basin: 170,000 km2 (65,637 sq mi)