Immortalised by Johann Strauss II with the Blue Danube Waltz (An der schönen blauen Donau), Europe’s River Danube is one of the continent’s most important rivers.
In terms of size, the River Danube flows for 1770 miles, making it the continent’s second longest river; second to the Volga. The source of the Danube is to be found in Germany’s Black Forest, at the town of Donaueschingen. The river then flows through Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, and the Ukraine, before emptying into the Black Sea. As the Danube traverses Europe it is fed by many other tributaries.
It is not just the size of the River Danube that makes it important though, it is the fact that for most of its length it is navigable, first by ocean going vessels, and then by large river boats. This means that the Danube is one of the transport hubs of Europe with countries along its route loading and unloading containers of goods and commodities.
The River Danube is today classed as an international waterway, but transporting along the river is not always easy. In particularly cold winters parts of the river are capable of being frozen solid. Equally during the driest periods certain parts of the river can become too shallow for the largest ships to use.
The importance of the River Danube though is not just a recent thing, and for millennia the waterway has proved vital to various people along its length. Dozens of important European cities have grown up on the banks of the Danube, and today the river runs through four capital cities, Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest and Belgrade. No other river can claim to host four capital cities.
Wars have been fought to control the Danube, and the river has in the past been both the border of the Roman Empire and later on the Ottoman Empire. In particularly Russian and the Austro-Hungarian Empire both fought the Ottomans for control of the Danube and the surrounding countries.
Today it is much more likely that cruise ships, rather than warships, will be seen traversing the Danube. Many companies now operate tourist vessels along the river, allowing for picturesque vistas, including many Bavarian castles, to be viewed from the water. Cruise ships also sail between the various capital cities, offering tourists the opportunity to experience many different cultures in a relatively short period of time.
The amount of vessels traversing the Danube and the industrial areas that have built up along the river do ensure that the Danube is not the cleanest of rivers, and in areas it is heavily polluted. At the same time the river does play host to countless species of flora and fauna, and is vital to the ecological balance of South-Eastern Europe.