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Together with the Danube, the Rhine was the northernmost frontier of the Roman Empire and was then an important commercial waterway. It has remained so throughout history and is now the busiest river in Europe. It is also one of the longest rivers in the world – 766 miles (1232km). It has a dual source in Switzerland – Vorderrhein (or Anterior Rhine) from Lake Toma and Hinterrhein (or Posterior Rhine) from the Paradies Glacier near the Rheinwaldhorn. From Switzerland, it flows through Liechtenstein and into Austria as the Alpenhein (or Alpine Rhine). This section of the river empties into lake Constance and through the Rhine Falls (the second largest waterfall in Europe), after which it is swollen to double its previous size by the River Aar. It continues into Germany and is joined by such major tributaries as the Main and Moselle. The Middle Rhine flows through the Rhine Gorge – a UNESCO world heritage site, noted for its beautiful castles, picturesque towns and vineyards. The Lower Rhine passes through a number of important cities including Cologne, Dusseldorf and the Ruhr area – the largest conurbation in Germany.

The Rhine turns west into the Netherlands and splits into three – the Waal, Nederrjin and Ijssel. It eventually merges with two more rivers to form the Rhine-Meuse-Scheldt delta emptying at various points into the North Sea. Canals connect the Rhine with cities and waterways across Europe. The Rhine was of major strategic importance to the Romans who stationed garrisons along its banks. The river was throughout history a natural border between countries and remains so today. It is also a river that is surrounded by legend, an inspiration to writers and composers – most notably, perhaps, Wagner’s Das Rheingold in the Ring Cycle. It is still hauntingly beautiful with fairy-tale castles, picturesque medieval towns and ancient vineyards lining its banks.