The Danube: connecting Europe

The Danube through time

View of the Piazza Navona in Rome

On Piazza Navona in Rome there is a spectacular fountain designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini: the Fountain of the Four Rivers. Its four statues represent river gods who personify major rivers which symbolise continents: the Nile represents Africa, the Ganges represents Asia, the Río de la Plata represents the Americas, and the Danube represents Europe.

With its length of 2,888 km, its flow from west to east and its huge drainage basin combine, Danube is the European river.

Map of the course of the Danube

Today, ten countries - Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova and Ukraine - and four capital cities - Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest and Belgrade - lie on the Danube.

Panoramic view of Budapest, 1873

It is the second longest river in Europe after the Volga. The opening of the Main-Danube Canal in 1992 created a waterway between the North Sea and the Black Sea.

Rivers have always served as communication routes and settlement areas, but they have also functioned as barriers and borders.

For centuries, waterways were the best and cheapest means of transport for people and goods, as well as providing mental stimulation. Fishing, shipbuilding, trade and transport, the production of process and drinking water, the operation of ship mills and ferries meant that the water of the Danube was, for many people, vital or at least a source of income.

View of Danube

The history of the Danube region throughout the modern age has been determined by disputes over territories and hegemony, and by the changing influence of great powers such as the Ottoman Empire, the Habsburg Monarchy and Russia.

Map of the Black Sea

Until well into the 19th century, the Danube and its banks formed a natural area shaped by the dynamics of the river, the changing seasons, floods and low water, to which people had to adapt. With its different geographical and cultural conditions, journeys along the river were a difficult undertaking for travellers and were usually only possible along certain sections of the river.

The taming of the river was one of the most important projects of the 19th century, thereby creating a huge economic and cultural area. The Danube was systematically regulated and at the same time romanticised as a natural paradise.