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The Danube played a vital role in the settlement and political advancement of main and southeastern Europe. Its banks, lined v castles and also fortresses, created the boundary between an excellent empires, and also its waters offered as a crucial commercial highway in between nations. The river’s majesty has long been commemorated in music. The well known waltz An der schönen, blauen Donau (1867; The Blue Danube), through Johann Strauss the Younger, became the price of royal Vienna. In the 21st century the flow has continued its duty as crucial trade artery. It has been harnessed because that hydroelectric power, particularly along the top courses, and the cities along its banks—including the national resources of Vienna (Austria), Budapest (Hungary), and also Belgrade (Serbia)—have depended on it for their economic growth.


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Physical features


The Danube’s huge drainage of some 315,000 square miles (817,000 square km) contains a variety of natural problems that impact the origins and the power of that is watercourses. They favour the development of a branching, dense, deepwater flow network that has some 300 tributaries, an ext than 30 of which space navigable. The river basin expands unevenly along its length. The covers about 18,000 square mile (47,000 square km) in ~ the Inn confluence, 81,000 square mile (210,000 square km) after joining with the Drava, and also 228,000 square mile (590,000 square km) below the confluences that its most affluent tributaries, the Sava and also the Tisza. In the lower course the basin’s price of growth decreases. More than half of the whole Danube basin is drained by its right-bank tributaries, which collection their waters indigenous the Alps and other mountain areas and contribute up to two-thirds of the full river runoff or outfall.

The confluence that the Sava (foreground) and also Danube rivers native the Kalemegdan fortress, Belgrade, Serbia.

Three sections room discernible in the river’s basin. The upper course stretches from its source to the gorge dubbed the Hungarian Gates, in the Austrian Alps and the west Carpathian Mountains. The center course operation from the Hungarian gateways Gorge come the Iron door in the southerly Romanian Carpathians. The lower course operation from the Iron gate to the deltalike estuary at the black Sea.

The top Danube springs as two tiny streams—the Breg and also Brigach—from the eastern slopes of the Black forest mountains that Germany, which partly consist that limestone. Native Donaueschingen, where the headstreams unite, the Danube flows northeastward in a narrow, rocky bed. To the north increase the wooded slopes the the Swabian and the Franconian mountains. Between Ingolstadt and also Regensburg the river forms a scenic canyonlike valley. To the southern of the river course follow me the big Bavarian Plateau, extended with thick layers of river deposits native the countless Alpine tributaries. The financial institution is low and uniform, composed greatly of fields, peat, and also marshland.

At Regensburg the Danube will its northernmost point, indigenous which the veers south and also crosses wide, fertile, and also level country. Shortly prior to it get Passau ~ above the Austrian border, the river narrows and its bottom abounds v reefs and also shoals. The Danube then flows with Austrian territory, wherein it cuts right into the slopes that the Bohemian Forest and also forms a small valley. In stimulate to boost navigation, dams and protecting dikes have been built near Passau, Linz, and Ardagger. The top Danube, part 600 mile (965 km) long, has actually a substantial average inclination that the riverbed (0.93 percent) and a rapid existing of 2 to 5 miles every hour. Depths vary from 3 come 26 feet (1 to 8 metres). The Danube swells dramatically at Passau wherein the Inn River, its biggest upstream tributary, carries more water than the main river. Other major tributaries in the top Danube course incorporate the Iller, Lech, Isar, Traun, Enns, and Morava rivers.

Isar River
Isar river at its source in the Karwendelgebirge (mountains), Bavaria, Germany.
Charles Bear/Shostal Associates

In its middle course the Danube looks an ext like a flatland river, v low banks and also a bed that reaches a broad of much more than one mile. Only in two sectors—at Visegrád (Hungary) and at the iron Gate—does the river circulation through small canyonlike gorges. The container of the middle Danube exhibits two key features: the flatland that the small Alfold and great Alfold plains and the low peaks that the west Carpathians and also Transdanubian Mountains.

Kazan Gorge
Kazan Gorge, cut by the Danube River, top top the border that Serbia (left) and also Romania (right).
Thomas M. Poulsen

The Danube beginning the small Alfold plain instantly after arising from the Hungarian gates Gorge close to Bratislava, Slovakia. There the river stream slows under abruptly and loses its moving capacity, for this reason that enormous quantities of gravel and also sand clear up on the bottom. A principal an outcome of this deposition has been the formation of two islands, one top top the Slovak side of the river and the various other on the Hungarian side, which merged have an area of around 730 square mile (1,900 square km) that support some 190,000 occupants in much more than 100 settlements. The silting hampers navigation and also occasionally divides the river into two or more channels. East of Komárno the Danube start the Visegrád Gorge, squeezed in between the foothills the the west Carpathian and also the Hungarian Transdanubian Mountains. The steep right bank is crowned v fortresses, castles, and cathedrals that the Hungarian Árpád dynasty of the 10th to 15th century.

The Danube climate flows previous Budapest, and throughout the vast great Alfold plain, traversing Croatia, Serbia, and also Romania until it reaches the Iron gate gorge. The riverbed is shallow and also marshy, and low terraces stretch along both banks. River buildup has constructed a big number that islands, consisting of Csepel Island close to Budapest. In this long stretch the river takes ~ above the waters of its significant tributaries—the Drava, the Tisza, and the Sava—which create an extensive changes in the river’s regime. The median runoff increases from around 83,000 cubic feet (2,400 cubic metres) per second north of Budapest to 200,000 cubic feet (5,600 cubic metres) in ~ the steel Gate. The flow valley looks most imposing there, and also the river’s depth and also current velocity fluctuate widely. The rapids and also reefs of the steel Gate as soon as made the river unnavigable till a lateral navigating channel and also a parallel railway permitted rivercraft to be towed upstream against the solid current.

Beyond the Iron gate the reduced Danube flows across a large plain; the river becomes shallower and also broader, and its existing slows down. To the right, above steep banks, follow me the tableland the the Danubian plain of Bulgaria. Come the left lies the short Romanian Plain, which is separated native the main stream by a piece of lakes and also swamps. The tributaries in this ar are comparatively small and account for only a modest rise in the full runoff. They include the Olt, the Siret, and also the Prut. The river is again obstructed by a variety of islands. Simply south that Cernavodă, the Danube top northward until it get Galați, whereby it veers abruptly eastward, the left bank briefly traversing Moldovan territory. Close to Tulcea, Romania, part 50 miles (80 km) indigenous the sea, the river begins to spread out right into its delta.

Olt River
Olt River, flowing through the Făgăraș Mountains, central Romania.

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The river splits right into three channels: the Chilia, i beg your pardon carries 63 percent of the complete runoff; the Sulina, which accounts because that 16 percent; and also the Sfântu Gheorghe (St. George), i beg your pardon carries the remainder. Navigation is feasible only by way of the Sulina Channel, which has been straightened and dredged along its 39-mile (63-km) length. Between the channels, a maze of smaller creeks and also lakes are separated through oblong strips that land dubbed grinduri. Most grinduri room arable and also cultivated, and some space overgrown through tall oak forests. A huge quantity of reeds that prosper in the shallow-water tracts are used in the produce of paper and textile fibres. The Danube delta consist of an area of some 1,660 square miles (4,300 square km) and also is a comparatively young formation. Around 6,500 years ago the delta website was a shallow cove that the black color Sea coast, yet it was slowly filled by river-borne silt; the delta continues to prosper seaward in ~ the price of 80 come 100 feet (24 to 30 metres) annually.