AskDefine | Define Rhine

Dictionary Definition



1 United States parapsychologist (1895-1980) [syn: J. B. Rhine, Joseph Banks Rhine]
2 a major European river carrying more traffic than any other river in the world; flows into the North Sea [syn: Rhine River, Rhein]

User Contributed Dictionary



  • /raɪn/
  • Rhymes with: -aɪn

Proper noun

the Rhine
  1. A river that flows through Switzerland, Germany, west Bavaria, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands.


river that flows through Europe
  • Bosnian: Rajna
  • Czech: Rýn
  • Dutch: Rijn
  • Esperanto: Rejno
  • Estonian: Rein
  • Finnish: Rein
  • French: Rhin
  • German: Rhein
  • Greek: Ρήνος
  • Hungarian: Rajna
  • Icelandic: Rín
  • Italian: Reno
  • Latin: Rhenus
  • Polish: Ren
  • Portuguese: Reno
  • Russian: Рейн
  • Serbian:
    Cyrillic: Рајна
    Latin: Rajna
  • Swedish: Rhen

Extensive Definition

The Rhine (lang-de Rhein; lang-nl Rijn; lang-fr Rhin; lang-it Reno; lang-rm Rain; lang-la Rhenus) is one of the longest and most important rivers in Europe at 1,320 kilometres (820 mi), with an average discharge of more than 2,000 cubic meters per second. The name of the Rhine comes from the archaic German Rhine, which in turn comes from Middle High German: Rin, from the Proto-Indo-European root *reie- ("to flow, run"). The Reno River in Italy shares the same etymology.
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 navigable waterway, carrying trade and goods deep inland. It has also served as a defensive feature, and 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 controlling that portion of the river.



The Rhine's origins are in the Swiss Alps in the canton of Graubünden, where its two main initial tributaries are called Vorderrhein and Hinterrhein. The Vorderrhein (anterior Rhine) springs from Lake Tuma near the Oberalp Pass and passes the impressive Ruinaulta (the Swiss Grand Canyon). The Hinterrhein (posterior Rhine) starts from the Paradies glacier near the Rheinquellhorn at the southern border of Switzerland. One of the latter tributaries originates in Val di Lei in Italy. Both tributaries meet near Reichenau, still in Graubünden. From Reichenau, the Rhine flows north as the Alpenrhein passing Chur and forming the border between Liechtenstein and then Austria on the east side, and canton St. Gallen of Switzerland on the west side, then emptying into Lake Constance. Emerging from Lake Constance, flowing generally westward as the Hochrhein it passes the Rhine Falls and is joined by the Aare river which more than doubles its water discharge to an average of nearly 1,000 cubic meters per second. It forms the boundary with Germany until it turns north at the so-called Rhine knee at Basel.

Germany and France

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 over 300 cubic meters per second.
Between Bingen and Bonn, the Middle Rhine flows through the Rhine Gorge, a formation created by erosion, which happened at about the same rate as an uplift in the region, leaving the river at about its original level, and the surrounding lands raised. This gorge is quite deep, and is the stretch of the river known for its many castles and vineyards. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (2002) and known as "the romantic Rhine" with more than 40 castles and fortresses from the Middle Ages (see links) and many lovely little quaint wine villages.
Though many industries can be found along the Rhine up into Switzerland, it is along the Lower Rhine in the Ruhr area that the bulk of them are concentrated, as the river passes the major cities of Cologne, Düsseldorf, and Duisburg. Duisburg is the home of Europe's largest inland port representing an inland hub to the sea ports of Rotterdam, Antwerp and Amsterdam. The Ruhr, which joins the Rhine in Duisburg, is nowadays a clean river, given the fact that most of industry has disappeared over the last decades. The Ruhr currently provides the region with drinking water. It adds another 70 cubic meters per second to the Rhine. However, other rivers from the Ruhr area, above all the Emscher, still bring a considerable degree of pollution. Approaching the Dutch border, the Rhine has an average discharge of 2,290 cubic metres per second and an average width of 400 metres (1,300 ft).


The Rhine then 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, but the river then splits into three main distributaries: the Waal, Nederrijn ("Lower Rhine") and IJssel.
From here the situation becomes more complicated, as the Dutch name "Rijn" no longer coincides with the main flow of water. Most of the Rhine water (two thirds) flows farther west through the Waal and then via the Merwede and Nieuwe Merwede (Biesbosch) and, merging with the Meuse, through the Hollands Diep and Haringvliet estuaries into the North Sea. The Beneden Merwede branches off near Hardinxveld-Giessendam and continues as the Noord, to join the Lek near the village of Kinderdijk to form the Nieuwe Maas, then flows past Rotterdam and continues via Het Scheur and the Nieuwe Waterweg to the North Sea. The Oude Maas branches off near Dordrecht, farther down rejoining the Nieuwe Maas to form Het Scheur.
The other third portion of the water flows through the Pannerdens Kanaal and redistributes in the IJssel and Nederrijn. The IJssel branch carries one ninth of the water volume north into the IJsselmeer (a former bay), while the Nederrijn flows west parallel to the Waal and carries approximately two ninths of the flow. However, at Wijk bij Duurstede the Nederrijn changes its name and becomes the Lek. It flows farther west to rejoin the Noord into the Nieuwe Maas and to the North Sea.
The name "Rijn" from here on is used only for smaller streams farther to the north which together once formed the main river Rhine in Roman times. Though they retained the name, these streams do not carry water from the Rhine anymore, but are used for draining the surrounding land and polders. From Wijk bij Duurstede, the old north branch of the Rhine is called Kromme Rijn ("Crooked Rhine") and past Utrecht, first Leidse Rijn ("Rhine of Leiden") and then Oude Rijn ("Old Rhine"). The latter flows west into a sluice at Katwijk, where its waters can be discharged into the North Sea. This branch once formed the line along which the Upper Germanic limes were built. During periods of lower sea levels within the various ice ages, the Rhine took a left turn, creating the Channel River, the course of which now lies below the English Channel.

Railway bridges

Existing and former railway bridges (with nearest train station on the left and right bank):


  • Switzerland
    • a total of five bridges on the line Andermatt - Reichenau-Tamins (all single tracked, electrified, 1000 mm gauge)


  • Switzerland
    • a total of two bridges on the line Filisur - Reichenau-Tamins (both single tracked, electrified, 1000 mm gauge)


  • Switzerland
    • at Untervaz (industrial branch line, single tracked and non-electrifed, combined 1000 mm and 1435 mm gauge)
    • between Bad Ragaz and Maienfeld (double tracked, electrified, 1435 mm gauge)
  • Austria and Switzerland
    • a total of two bridges of the Internationale Rheinregulierungsbahn (both single tracked, electrified, 750 mm gauge)
    • between Lustenau and St. Margrethen (single tracked, electrified)


  • Germany
    • between Konstanz Hbf and Konstanz-Petershausen (single tracked, electrified)
  • Switzerland
    • between Etzwillen and Hemishofen (single tracked, non electrified, line closed for traffic)
    • between Feuerthalen and Schaffhausen (single tracked, electrified)
    • between Dachsen and Neuhausen am Rheinfall (single tracked, electrified)
    • between Eglisau and Hüntwangen-Will (single tracked, electrified)
  • Switzerland and Germany

Upper Rhine

  • France and Germany
    • between Huningue and Weil am Rhein (single tracked, destroyed in WW2)
    • between Chalampé and Neuenburg (single tracked, electrified, freight only - passenger service only on weekends)
    • between Neuf-Brisach and Breisach (single tracked, destroyed in WW2)
    • between Strasbourg and Kehl (single tracked, electrified, soon to be double tracked again)
    • between Roeschwoog and Rastatt-Wintersdorf (double tracked, used as street bridge since 1949, line closed 1960, rails were preserved for strategic purpose until 1999)
  • Germany **between Karlsruhe-Maxau and Wörth am Rhein-Maximiliansau (double tracked, electrified)
    • between Germersheim and Philippsburg (single tracked, electrified)
    • between Ludwigshafen and Mannheim (four tracks, electrified)
    • between Worms-Brücke and Hofheim (double tracked, electrified)
    • between Mainz-Süd and Mainz-Gustavsburg (double tracked, electrified)
    • between Mainz-Nord and Wiesbaden-Ost (double tracked, electrified)

Middle Rhine

  • Germany
    • between Rüdesheim/Geisenheim and Münster-Sarmsheim/Ockenheim (double tracked, destroyed in WW2)
    • between Koblenz Hbf and Niederlahnstein (double tracked, electrified)
    • between Koblenz-Lützel and Neuwied (double tracked, electrified)
    • The bridge at Remagen between Sinzig/Bad Bodendorf and Unkel (double tracked, destroyed in WW2)

Lower Rhine

  • Germany
    • two bridges at Cologne:
    • between Neuss-Rheinpark Center and Düsseldorf-Hamm (four tracks, electrified)
    • between Rheinhausen-Ost and Duisburg-Hochfeld Süd (double tracked, electrified)
    • between Moers and Duisburg-Beeck (single tracked (formerly double tracked), electrified, freight only)
    • between Büderich and Wesel (double tracked, destroyed in WW2)


The bridges at Huningue, Rastatt, Rüdesheim (Hindenburgbrücke) and Remagen (Ludendorffbrücke) were built for strategic military reasons only, in order to allow the Imperial German Army (and later the Wehrmacht) to quickly transport forces by rail to Germany's western border in the event of a war with France. Unlike other bridges built for the same purpose (like the ones at Koblenz or Cologne), these bridges were of almost no use in peacetime and thus were never rebuild after their destruction during the last months of World War 2 (except for the one at Rastatt, which was used to supply units of the French Army stationed in the area).

Former distributaries

order: panning North to South through Western Netherlands

Canals include

order: upstream to downstream

Geologic history

Alpine orogeny

The Rhine flows from the Alps to the North Sea Basin and the geography and geology of its present day watershed has developed since the Alpine Orogeny began.
In southern Europe, the stage was set in the Triassic Period of the Mesozoic Era, with the opening of the Tethys Sea between the Eurasian and African plates, between about 240 MBP and 220 MBP. The present Mediterranean descends from this somewhat larger Tethys sea. At about 180 MBP, in the Jurassic Period, the two plates reversed direction and began to compress the Tethys floor, causing it to be subducted under Eurasia and pushing up the edge of the latter plate in the Alpine Orogeny of the Oligocene and Miocene Periods. Several microplates were caught in the squeeze and rotated or were pushed laterally, generating the individual features of Mediterranean geography: Iberia pushed up the Pyrenees; Italy the Alps, and Anatolia, moving west, the mountains of Greece and the islands. The compression and orogeny continue today, as shown by the ongoing raising of the mountains a small amount each year and the active volcanoes.
The human history of the Rhine begins with the writers of the late Roman Republic and early Roman Empire. Nearly all the classical sources mention the Rhine, and the name is always the same: Rhenus in Latin, Greek Rhenos. The Romans viewed the Rhine as the outermost border of civilization and reason, beyond which were mythical creatures and the wild Germanic tribesmen, not far themselves from being beasts of the wilderness they inhabited. As it was a wilderness, the Romans were eager to explore it. This view is typified by Res Gestae Divi Augusti, a long public inscription of Augustus in which he (or his ghost writer) boasts of his exploits, including sending an expeditionary fleet north of the Rheinmouth to Old Saxony and Jutland, which he claims no Roman had ever done.
Throughout the long history of Rome, the Rhine was considered the border between Gaul or the Celts and the Germanic peoples, although it should be noted that the historical ethnonyms do not carry their modern ethno-linguistic definitions. Typical of this point of view is a quote from Maurus Servius Honoratus, Commentary on the Aeneid of Vergil (On Book 8 Line 727):
"(Rhenus) fluvius Galliae, qui Germanos a Gallia dividit"
"(The Rhein is a) river of Gaul, which divides the Germanic people from Gaul."
The Rhine in the earlier sources was always a Gallic river.
As the Roman Empire grew, the Romans found it necessary to station troops along the Rhine. They kept two army groups there (exercitus), the inferior, or "lower", and the superior, or "upper", which is the first distinction between upper Germania and lower Germania. It originally probably only meant upstream and downstream, the Niederrhein and Oberrhein regions of the map included with this article.
The Romans kept eight legions in five bases along the Rhine. The actual number of legions present at any base or in all depended on whether a state or threat of war existed. Between about 14 AD and 180 AD the assignment of legions was as follows. For the army of Germania Inferior, two legions at Vetera (Xanten): I Germanica and XX Valeria (Pannonian troops); two legions at oppidum Ubiorum ("town of the Ubii"), which was renamed to Colonia Agrippina, descending to Cologne. The legions were V Alaudae, a Celtic legion recruited from Gallia Transalpina, and XXI, possibly a Galatian legion from the other side of the empire.
For the army of Germania superior, one legion, II Augusta, at Argentoratum (Strasbourg), and one, XIII Gemina, at Vindonissa (Windisch). Vespasian had commanded II Augusta before his promotion to imperator. In addition were a double legion, XIV and XVI, at Moguntiacum (Mainz).
The two originally military districts of Germania Inferior and Germania Superior came to influence the surrounding tribes, who later respected the distinction in their alliances and confederations. For example, the upper Germanic peoples combined into the Alemanni. For a time the Rhine ceased to be a border when the Franks crossed the river and occupied Roman-dominated Celtic Gaul as far as Paris.
The first urban settlement on the grounds of what today is the centre of Cologne along the Rhine was Oppidum Ubiorum, which was founded in 38 BC by the Ubii, a Germanic tribe. Cologne became acknowledged as a city by the Romans in 50 AD by the name of Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium. Considerable Roman remains can be found in contemporary Cologne, especially near the wharf area along the Rhine, where a notable discovery of a 1900 year old Roman boat was made on the Rhine banks in late 2007.
Subsequently language changes began to play a major political role. West Germanic dissimilated into Low Saxon, Low Franconian languages and High German languages roughly along the old lines. Perhaps it had been doing so all along. Charlemagne united all the Franks in the Holy Roman Empire, but he did not rule over a people of uniform language. After his death the empire split more or less along language lines, with the Low Franconian being spoken in the Netherlands and the Low Saxon and High German in what became Germany. The Romanized Franks became the French. The Rhine once again became a political border.
The Rhine as border has been and is a mystical and political symbol. German authors and composers have written reams about it. During World War II, it was still considered the sacred border of Germany, and was still a defensive barrier. The Germans fought especially hard to defend it.
The Rhine is closely linked to many important historical events — particularly military ones — as well as myths. For example:
  • It was a historic object of frontier trouble between France and Germany. Establishing "natural borders" on the Rhine was a long term goal of French foreign policy since the Middle Ages, though the language border was - and is - far more to the west. French leaders such as Louis XIV and Napoleon Bonaparte tried with varying degrees of success to annex lands west of the Rhine. The Confederation of the Rhine was established by Napoleon as a French satellite state in 1806 and lasted until 1814, during which time it served as a significant source of resources and military manpower for the French Empire. In 1840 the Rhine crisis evolved, because the French prime minister Adolphe Thiers started to talk about the Rhine border. In response, the poem and song Die Wacht am Rhein ("The Watch on the Rhine") was composed at that time, calling for the defense of the western bank of the Rhine against France. During the Franco-Prussian War it rose to the de-facto status of a national anthem in Germany. The song remained popular in World War I and was used in the movie Casablanca
  • At the end of World War I the Rheinland was subject to the Treaty of Versailles. This decreed that it would be occupied by the allies until 1935, and after that it would be a demilitarised zone, with the German army forbidden to enter. The Treaty of Versailles in general, and this particular provision, caused much resentment in Germany and are often cited as helping Adolf Hitler's rise to power. The allies left the Rheinland in 1930, and the German army re-occupied it in 1936, which was enormously popular in Germany. Although the allies could probably have prevented the re-occupation, Britain and France were not inclined to do so, a feature of their policy of appeasement of Hitler.
  • In World War II it was recognised that the Rhine would present a formidable natural obstacle to the invasion of Germany by the western allies. The Rhine bridge at Arnhem, immortalized in the book and film A Bridge Too Far, was a central focus of the battle for Arnhem during the failed Operation Market Garden of September 1944. The bridges at Nijmegen over the Waal distributary of the Rhine were also an objective of Operation Market Garden. In a separate operation, the Ludendorff Bridge crossing the Rhine at Remagen became famous when U.S. forces were able to capture it intact — much to their own surprise — after the Germans failed to demolish it. This also became the subject of a film, The Bridge at Remagen.
  • In November 1986, a terrible disaster happened as fire broke out in a chemical factory near Basel, Switzerland. Chemicals soon made their way into the river and caused pollution problems. About 30 tons of chemicals were discharged into the river. Locals were told to stay indoors, as foul smells were present in the area. The pollutants included chemicals such as: pesticides, mercury and other highly poisonous agricultural chemicals.
  • Mainz Cathedral — this more than 1,000-year-old cathedral is seat to the Bishop of Mainz. It holds significant historic value as the seat of the once politically powerful secular prince-archbishop within the Holy Roman Empire. It houses historical funerary monuments and religious artifacts.
  • The Nibelungenlied, an epic poem in Middle High German, tells the saga of Siegfried/Sigurd, who killed a dragon on the Drachenfels (Siebengebirge) ("dragons rock") near Bonn at the Rhine, of the Burgundians and their court at Worms at the Rhine, and Kriemhild's golden treasure which is thrown into the Rhine by Hagen
  • The Loreley/Lorelei is a rock on the eastern bank of the Rhine that is associated with several legendary tales, poems and songs. The river spot has a reputation for being a challenge for inexperienced navigators.
commons Rhein



Further reading

  • Blackbourn, David., (2006) The Conquest of Nature: Water, Landscape and the Making of Germany. The transformation of the Rhine since the eighteenth century.

External links

Rhine in Afrikaans: Ryn
Rhine in Tosk Albanian: Rhein
Rhine in Amharic: ራይን ወንዝ
Rhine in Old English (ca. 450-1100): Rīn
Rhine in Arabic: راين
Rhine in Aragonese: Río Rin
Rhine in Bengali: রাইন নদী
Rhine in Bosnian: Rhein
Rhine in Breton: Roen
Rhine in Bulgarian: Рейн
Rhine in Catalan: Rin
Rhine in Chuvash: Рейн (юханшыв)
Rhine in Cebuano: Rin
Rhine in Czech: Rýn
Rhine in Corsican: Renu
Rhine in Welsh: Afon Rhein
Rhine in Danish: Rhinen
Rhine in German: Rhein
Rhine in Estonian: Rein
Rhine in Modern Greek (1453-): Ρήνος
Rhine in Spanish: Rin
Rhine in Esperanto: Rejno
Rhine in Basque: Rhin
Rhine in Persian: رود راین
Rhine in French: Rhin
Rhine in Western Frisian: Ryn
Rhine in Galician: Río Rhin
Rhine in Korean: 라인 강
Rhine in Croatian: Rajna
Rhine in Indonesian: Rhein
Rhine in Interlingue: Rhein
Rhine in Icelandic: Rín (fljót)
Rhine in Italian: Reno (Germania)
Rhine in Hebrew: ריין
Rhine in Swahili (macrolanguage): Rhine
Rhine in Latin: Rhenus
Rhine in Latvian: Reina
Rhine in Luxembourgish: Rhäin
Rhine in Lithuanian: Reinas
Rhine in Lombard: Renu
Rhine in Hungarian: Rajna
Rhine in Marathi: र्‍हाइन नदी
Rhine in Malay (macrolanguage): Sungai Rhine
Rhine in Dutch: Rijn
Rhine in Japanese: ライン川
Rhine in Norwegian: Rhinen
Rhine in Norwegian Nynorsk: Rhinen
Rhine in Occitan (post 1500): Ren
Rhine in Low German: Rhien
Rhine in Polish: Ren
Rhine in Portuguese: Rio Reno
Rhine in Kölsch: Rhing
Rhine in Romanian: Rin
Rhine in Romansh: Rain
Rhine in Quechua: Rhein
Rhine in Russian: Рейн
Rhine in Albanian: Rhein
Rhine in Simple English: Rhine River
Rhine in Slovak: Rýn
Rhine in Slovenian: Ren
Rhine in Serbian: Рајна
Rhine in Finnish: Rein
Rhine in Swedish: Rhen
Rhine in Vietnamese: Rhine
Rhine in Turkish: Ren Nehri
Rhine in Ukrainian: Рейн
Rhine in Urdu: دریائے رائن
Rhine in Yiddish: ריין (טייך)
Rhine in Chinese: 莱茵河
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