The Rhine River begins its 820-mile journey across Europe in the Swiss Alps. Starting out as a trickle from snowmelt, Alpine streams grow as they feed on the runoff from the Rheinwaldhorn glacier. The streams form the Hinter Rhine and the Vorder Rhine and unite at Reichenau to form the Rhine. After flowing in a northwesterly direction for over 800 miles, the Rhine River discharges into the North Sea.
The Rhine passes through six countries: Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, Germany, France and the Netherlands. Each country calls the river by a different name. In Germany, it is called the Rhein. In France, the Rhine; and in the Netherlands, the Rijin. In antiquity, it was first known as the Rhenus River.
The Roman Empire
The German tribes fought the Romans to a standoff at the Rhine River. The Romans tried to push the Germans back but abandoned the effort after the Battle of Teutoberg Forest. Here Germans ambushed and annihilated three Roman legions, and there were no survivors. Roman expansion ceased. The Rhine River delineated the northern boundaries of the empire.
Cities and Tolls
The river passes through Basel, Strasbourg, Worms, Mainz, Cologne and Bonn. As the longest river in Europe, it was a major trade route during the Middle Ages. The countries along the river forced merchant ships to pay tolls for their sailing privileges.
Castles on the Rhine
Most tourists sail the Rhine to see the romantic feudal castles perched high on the river cliffs. The feudal overlords built them on strategic sites to serve as protection from roving marauders.