From the Black Forest of Germany to the Black Sea, the Danube is a vital lifeline that pulses through the heart of Central and Eastern Europe. The Danube is not only Europe’s second largest river–more than twice the length of the Rhine and nearly three and a half times the length of the Rhône–but it flows through ten different countries and more than a dozen languages are spoken on its banks. Imagine the variety in food, architecture and history that goes with each of these languages and cultures. Enjoy an intriguing, panoramic view of two thousand years of European history as you travel along the lyrical “Blue Danube.”
Where the River Flows
The Danube River has been used as an important means of transportation for commerce and military operations for nearly 2,000 years because it is the only major European river that flows west to east. The Danube rises in Germany’s Black Forest and flows through the heartland of Austria, first forming the border of Austria and Slovakia, and the Slovakia and Hungary. Leaving Hungary, it runs through Croatia and Serbia to form the boundary between Serbia and Romania and the Romania and Bulgaria border. The mighty Danube brushes the edge of Moldova and Ukraine before finally emptying into the Black Sea.
The Upper Danube is home to four capital Cities–Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest, and Belgrade–more than any other river in the world. Downstream from Belgrade, the Danube enters the Iron Gates, a great natural corridor through the Carpathian Mountains and Balkan Mountains. It then spills into the plains of the ancient Roman province of Wallachia. Flooding has been a problem there since Roman times and still is. Due to the floods, no major cities have been developed on the Danube downstream of Belgrade. Bucharest, the capital of Romania is 50 miles uphill from the Danube, well protected from rising water in the spring.
Who is the Danube?
Over the centuries, the Danube has been one of the most significant cultural and historic boundaries in Europe. In the early Middle Ages, the full length of the river formed the northern border of the Roman Empire. It remained intact as late as 454 A.D. when the Goths, Huns, Slavs, and other groups crossed the Danube in order to invade the crumbling Empire.
The Roman legacy established the importance of the river as a medieval trade route, explaining why so many crucial trade and transportation centers can still be found along its shore today. The waters of the Danube also form a critical militaristic and spiritual lifeline. It was the major connection between Europe and the East, providing a pathway for crusaders to charge into Byzantium and the Holy Land.
The trade corridor along the Danube gave rise to two major empires, the Austrian and Hungarian, which merged under Austria in the early 19th century. The Danube then served as a link between the industrial centers of Germany and the agricultural areas of the Balkan Peninsula. It also served as a critical cultural border. To this day, Romania and Bulgaria reflect their respective and separate histories with Romania having a Romance language and Bulgaria demonstrating key historic affinities in architecture and religion with the Ottoman Turks.
Both the commercial and military value of the Danube are still recognized today. Many treaties have been signed to try to keep one country from having too much control over the river. Today the Danube is still a major transportation route, with more than 3,500 ships passing through its delta each year. Extensive navigation is made possible by various dredging of canals and channels often constructed with inter-country cooperation for the benefit of all the nations that border the essential waterway.
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