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The longest river in the Czech Republic, the Vltava stretches for 267 miles (430 km) from its source near the German border and flows eventually into the River Elbe, north of Prague. The Vltava rises in the Bohemian forests in the south-west of the Czech Republic from two headstreams, the Tepla Vltava and Studena Vltava. It is a river that is forever changing. At times it is like a mountain stream, at others it flows through peat bogs. At Ceske Budejovice it flows through numerous lakes. In other parts, there are gorges and rapids and forested slopes down to its banks. There are large hydropower dams – nine in all, the first built in the Thirties – and great lakes. Eighteen bridges cross the river in Prague including the famous Charles Bridge built in 1357 by Charles IV. It has massive fortified towers at each end and over centuries a series of some thirty sculptures have been gradually added to the bridge piers. It is the very centre of Prague and every celebration takes place here.

The Vltava runs right through the heart of the city with the Old Town and the New Town (Nove Mesto) on one bank. On the other bank is the Lesser Town (Mala Strana) as well as the beautiful Prague Castle. The Vltava must be one of the few waterways celebrated in music. Bedrich Smetana composed a set of six symphonic poems called My Country (Ma Vlast) – probably his most successful work – and the best known of these is “Vltava”, tracing the course of the river through the country. There is a museum to the Czech Republic’s best loved composer on the banks of the river in Prague.