The Danube Toward Vienna
The Danube is Austria's principal river and the longest in Europe after the Volga. Although barely more than 300km/185mi of the river's total course of some 2,900km/1,800miles - from its source in South Germany to its outflow into the Black Sea in Romania - lie within Austria, the names of Austria and the Danube are so closely linked that it is difficult to think of the one without the other. As the only major European waterway flowing from west to east, the Danube has for thousands of years played an important part in the history of the many peoples through whose territory it flowed. It marked out the route of the great military highway which ran from the Rhine to the Black Sea; the Romans built a series of fortified camps such as Vindobona and Carnuntum along the valley; the legendary Nibelungs came this way; and here, too, passed the Celts, Charlemagne's Franks, Frederick Barbarossa's Crusaders and finally Napoleon. In the opposite direction, going upstream, Attila led his Huns towards France and the Avars and Hungarians pressed into western Europe. Great battles which decided the fate of Europe have been fought on the banks of the Danube: twice the West withstood Turkish assaults at Vienna, and at Aspern (now within the city limits of Vienna) Napoleon suffered his first defeat in 1809. The Danube and the regions along its banks have become threatened by attack from chemical waste and by the power stations which affect the water-balance. As a result, in recent years the idea of making the area below Vienna a protected national park has attracted considerable support; however, the problem of finance is as yet unsolved. Between the German frontier at Passau and the Upper Austrian town of Linz the Danube describes a series of great loops in the forest-fringed valley between the Mühlviertel to the north and the Innviertel to the south. Below Linz lies the Strudengau, a wooded defile between Ardagger and Ybbs, and beyond this, extending to Melk, stretches the Nibelungengau, with the conspicuous pilgrimage church of Maria Taferl. The best-known stretch is perhaps the Wachau, with a series of ancient little towns between Melk and Krems. Just beyond this, through the Tullner Basin, lies Vienna, and the low-lying area which extends eastward to Hainburg and Bratislava (the Czech Republic) begins to take on the aspect of the Hungarian puszta.