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The Tisza is a major tributary of the Danube and one of the most important rivers of central Europe, rising in the Ukraine and flowing through Romania, Slovakia, Hungary and Serbia or forming borders between those countries. It is 844 miles (1358km) in length. The Tisza rises in the Carpathian Mountains in the Ukraine and has two headstreams, the Black and White Tisza whose confluence is on the border with Romania. This mountain Tisza is free flowing and has three annual floods – in early spring, early summer and autumn. There used to be severe flooding when there was high water in the Danube, forcing the water of the Tisza back on itself and as a result, there are levees that stretch along much of its course. In fact, the river used to be almost 100 miles longer. Some of its meanders were turned into side channels and cut off from the main flow to reduce flooding in the middle of the nineteenth century.

The middle section of the river is in Hungary where it has several large tributaries including the Bodrog, the Sajo, the Somes, the Crisul and Mures. It travels in a meandering course and loops back to Chop in the Ukraine where the borders of Slovakia, Ukraine and Hungary meet. It then flows across the great flat, fertile lowlands of southeastern Hungary, similar in landscape to the Russian steppes but with farmland as well as swamps. This area is known as the Great Alfold. The lower Tisza, downstream of the Hungarian-Serbian border, is fed by the Bega River and joins the Danube 28 miles (45km) north of Belgrade in Serbia. Much of this last section of 600 miles (966km) is canalised, the last third of which is navigable. The Tiszalok Dam forms Hungary’s largest reservoir and provides hydroelectric power. With the Eastern Main Canal, the river also provides irrigation for the vast plains that surround it.