Crossing the European Continental Divide
On select river cruises, AmaWaterways guests enjoy an iconic travel experience: crossing the European Continental Divide – the history-making canal that ultimately led to the founding of AmaWaterways!
What is a Continental Divide?
A continental divide is a drainage divide separating two major bodies of water that feed into different oceans or seas—or rivers, in this case. The European watershed is a triple divide—with the Main-Rhine rivers flowing into the North Sea, the Danube River into the Black Sea, and Italy’s Po River draining into the Adriatic Sea. The only way river cruise ships can cross the Continental Divide between the North Sea and the Black Sea is through the Rhine-Main-Danube Canal.
Early History of the Canal
It was Charlemagne, the 8th- and 9th-century emperor who laid the groundwork for the Holy Roman Empire, who first came up with the idea of a canal connecting the North and Black seas via the Main and Danube rivers. However, heavy rains and lateral erosion, the process by which heavy vessels push sediment from the bottom of the river onto the banks, prevented Charlemagne’s dream from becoming a reality.
That was, until some 1,200 years later, when King Ludwig I of Bavaria began construction of a section of the canal from Bamberg to Nuremberg. At that time, boats were pulled through by horses to compensate for the changes in altitude. Later, a system of locks was put into place. However, the Ludwig-Danube-Main Canal, as it was known at the time, was heavily damaged during World War II and was officially shut down in 1950.
The Rhine Joins In
An increase in shipping and passenger traffic soon made it clear that a connection between the rivers was not only desired, but necessary. In 1992, a bigger and better canal was completed that expanded upon the former visionaries’ ideas: the Rhine-Main-Danube Canal.