The Geology of the Rhine River

While all of the travel brochures tout the romanticism of the Rhine (and, indeed, it boasts some of the most beautiful and historically rich territory on earth), it also serves some quite practical purposes in central and western Europe, particularly in Germany. Not only does the Rhine drain some 86,700 miles of territory, it provides drinking water for much of the German population and serves as a major player in the inland navigation system. Indeed, much of the German interior is delivered with a variety of goods shipped via the Rhine.

The name Rhine was born of similar words from a variety of languages, including the Gaulish Renos, the Greek Rhenos, and the Latin, Rhenus, just to name a few. The closest English translation is "to move, flow, or run." The Swiss canton of Graub├╝nden in the southeastern Swiss Alps gives birth to the Rhine, which makes its way to the border of Germany and France, then moves northward into Germany until it reaches the Netherlands, where it spills into the North Sea.

This is an 820 mile trek, and river cruising allows tourists to see the lush countryside and historical landmarks along its banks. 

Cities along the Rhine

From the bustling metropolis of Amsterdam, Netherlands to quaint Breisach, Germany, the Rhine affords a front-seat view of the some of the oldest and most storied cities in Europe, including:

  • Basel, Switzerland
  • Breisach, Germany
  • Colmar, France
  • Strasbourg, France
  • Speyer, Germany
  • Rudesheim, Germany
  • Kablenz, Germany
  • Cologne, Germany
  • Amsterdam, Netherlands

In addition to these larger cities, the Rhine goes through numerous smaller villages.

Territories near the Rhine

From the deep, dark Black Forest to the bright and glorious tropical blooms and orchards, the Rhine offers an endless variety of territory to see. Beginning in the snowy Alps, the Rhine passes through the lush, green farmlands of the Swiss Jura, and into the foreboding Black Forest. The Rhine then makes its way to the low Vosges mountains in France, and along to the Palatinate Forest of Germany, one of the largest forests in all of Europe.

The river then proceeds through the Odenwald mountain range of Germany, where a culture of pottery makers settled as early as 2,500 B.C. Then the Rhine meanders through the river valleys of the Hunsrueck mountain range and on to the Westerwald and Eifel mountain ranges until it reaches the Seven Mountains or Siebengebirge, which are more like a pristine series of rolling hills than actual mountains. The Rhine ends in the river basin near Amsterdam, where it empties into the North Sea. The most beautiful time to go river cruising along the Rhine is between March and October, when the tropical flowers, fruit orchards, and vineyards are in full bloom.

Other Rivers That Connect to the Rhine

From the east, the rivers Neckar, Main, Lann, Rhur, and Lippe drain into the Rhine. From the west, the waters of the Nahe and Moselle rivers join the mix. The Rhine is also connected to a series of canals which connect the waters of the Rhine to the Danube, Elbe, Ems, Marne, Oder, Rhone, and Weser rivers. This system of canals forms an important inland navigation system, which serves a large portion of western and central Europe with transportation, recreation, and shipping for valuable commodities. 

Rock Formations alongside the Rhine

The ancient Rhine is an excellent place to see human history, but it's also a fascinating place to learn about geological history. Seventeen gigantic rock formations, ranging in age from about 460 million years ago to about 350,000 years ago can be found near the Rhine. Nine different periods of earth's history are represented in these rocks, including the Silurian, Jurassic, Cretaceous, and Quaternary ages.

Castles and Fortifications on the Rhine

Before the modern nation of Germany was formed, about 350 independent states claimed the lands. Each ruling a small territory with iron fists, these noblemen built numerous castles and fortresses along the Rhine. Many of those still stand today, including the Castle Klopp, Castle Maus, Castle Martinsburg, Fortress Ehrenbreitstein, and many others. Most of these castles and fortresses are open for guests on German river cruises to visit.

From the formation of planet earth through the Middle Ages and into the modern age, the Rhine is truly the most romantic way to learn the history of Europe, and indeed, the history of the world.


Client Bio

AmaWaterways offers Rhine river tours, including visits to the canal in Amsterdam, the Gothic cathedral in Cologne, wine tasting in R├╝desheim, and city tours of Strasbourg, Basel, and much more. With lots of stops on the itinerary and plenty of time for browsing and souvenir shopping, these tours are the ideal balance of relaxation and fun.