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View over the Rhone flowing from Valais into Lake Geneva
Countries  Switzerland,  France
Source Rhone Glacier
Mouth Mediterranean Sea
 - elevation m (0 ft)
 - coordinates 43°19′51″N 4°50′44″E / 43.33083°N 4.84556°E / 43.33083; 4.84556
Length 813 km (505 mi)
Area 54 km2 (21 sq mi)
 - average 2,300 m3/s (81,224 cu ft/s)

The Rhone (French: Rhône; Arpitan: Rôno; Occitan: Ròse; standard German: Rhone; Valais German: Rotten; Italian: Rodano) is one of the major rivers of Europe, originating in Switzerland and running from there through the south-eastern corner of France. At Arles, near its mouth at the Mediterranean Sea, the river divides into two branches, known as the Great Rhone (French: Grand Rhône) and the Little Rhone (Petit Rhône).



Before railroads and highways were invented, the Rhone was an important inland trade and transportation route, connecting the cities of Arles, Avignon, Valence, Vienne and Lyon to the Mediterranean ports of Fos, Marseille and Sète. Travelling down the Rhone by barge would take three weeks. By motorized vessel, the trip now takes only three days. The Rhône is classified as a class V waterway[1] from the mouth of the Saône river to the sea. The Saône, which is also canalized, connects the Rhône ports to the cities of Villefranche-sur-Saône, Mâcon and Chalon-sur-Saône. Smaller vessels (up to CEMT class I) can travel further northwest, north and northeast via the Centre-Loire-Briare and Loing Canals to the Seine river, via the Canal de la Marne à la Saône (recently often called the "Canal entre Champagne et Bourgogne") to the Marne, via the Canal des Vosges (formerly called the "Canal de l'Est – Branche Sud") to the Moselle and via the Canal du Rhône au Rhin to the Rhine.

The Rhone is infamous for its strong current when the river carries large quantities of water: current speeds up to 10 kilometres per hour (6 mph) are sometimes reached, particularly in the stretch below the last lock at Valabrègues and in some of the diversion canals. The ten river locks are operated daily from 05:00 a.m. until 09:00 p.m. Night operation can be requested and is usually granted [2].


It rises as the effluent of the Rhone Glacier in Valais, in the Swiss Alps, at an altitude of approximately 2,150 metres (7,100 ft).[3]

Up to Brig, the Rhone is a torrent, and then becomes a great mountain river running SW through a glacier valley. Between Brig and Martigny, it collects waters mostly from the valleys of the Pennine Alps on the south, whose rivers originate from the large glaciers of the massifs of Monte Rosa, Dom, and Grand Combin.

After Martigny, the river turns NW towards Lake Geneva (French Lac Léman) and separates the Chablais Alps from the Bernese Alps. It enters Lake Geneva near the Swiss town of Bouveret and exits it at the city of Geneva before entering France. The average annual discharge from Lake Geneva is 570 m3/s (20,000 cu ft/s).[4]

It is joined by the river Saône at Lyon, before going south. Along the Rhone Valley, it is joined on the right (western) bank by the rivers Eyrieux, Ardèche, Cèze, and Gardon coming from the Cévennes mountains; and on the left bank by the rivers Isère, Drôme, Ouvèze, and Durance from the Alps.

At Arles, the Rhone divides itself in two arms, forming the Camargue delta, with all branches flowing into the Mediterranean Sea. The larger arm is called the "Grand Rhône", the smaller the "Petit Rhône". The average annual discharge at Arles is 2,300 m3/s (81,000 cu ft/s).[4]


Mouth of the Rhone

The Rhone has been an important highway since the times of the Greeks and Romans. It was the main trade route from the Mediterranean to east-central Gaul.[5] As such, it helped convey Greek cultural influences to the western Hallstatt and the later La Tène cultures.[5] Celtic tribes living near the Rhone included the Seduni, Segobriges, Allobroges, Segusiavi, Helvetii, Vocontii and Volcae Arecomici.[5]

Navigation was difficult, as the river suffered from fierce currents, shallows, floods in spring and early summer when the ice was melting, and droughts in late summer. Until the 19th century, passengers travelled in coches d'eau (water coaches) drawn by men or horses, or under sail. Most travelled with a painted cross covered with religious symbols as protection against the hazards of the journey.[6]

Trade on the upper river used barques du Rhône, sailing barges, 30 by 3.5 metres (98 by 11 ft), with a 75-tonne (170,000 lb) capacity. As many as 50 to 80 horses were employed to haul trains of 5 to 7 craft upstream. Goods would be transshipped at Arles into 23-metre (75 ft) sailing barges called allèges d'Arles for the final run down to the Mediterranean.

The first experimental steam boat was built at Lyon by Jouffroy d'Abbans in 1783. Regular services were not started until 1829 and they continued until 1952. Steam passenger vessels 80 to 100 metres (260–330 ft) long made up to 20 kilometres per hour (12 mph) and could do the downstream run from Lyon to Arles in a day. Cargo was hauled in bateau-anguilles, boats 157 by 6.35 metres (520 by 21 ft) with paddle wheels amidships, and bateaux crabes, a huge toothed 'claw' wheel 6.5 metres (21 ft) across to grip the river bed in the shallows to supplement the paddle wheels. In the 20th century, powerful motor barges propelled by diesel engines were introduced, carrying 1,500 tonnes (3,300,000 lb).

In 1933, the Compagnie Nationale du Rhône (CNR) was established to tame the river. Some progress was made in deepening the navigation channel and constructing scouring walls, but World War II brought such work to a halt. In 1942, following the collapse of Vichy France, Italian military forces occupied southeastern France up to the eastern banks of the Rhône, as part of the Italian Fascist regime's expansionist agenda.

In 1948, the government started construction on a series of locked barrages and canal cuts, to improve navigation and generate electricity, with locks raising boats up to 23 metres (75 ft). About 1/13 of France's electricity supply is now provided by these power stations.


The word "Rhone" comes from Latin Rhodanus, which itself comes from Greek Ῥοδανός Rhodanos, the Greek rendering of the Gaulish (Celtic) name of the river, as heard by Greeks' living in the colony of Massalia (Marseille). The Celtic name of the river was something like Rodonos or Rotonos (Great River) (-onos/-ona is a suffix meaning Great). Rodo/Roto, literally "that which rolls", or "that which runs", is a frequent name of rivers in the ancient Celtic tongue. It was also the name of the lower Seine River, as well as several other rivers of western Europe. The Celtic name comes from the Proto-Indo-European root *ret- ("to run, roll"), which gave the word rota ("wheel") in Latin, from which is derived "rotate" and "to roll" in English. Cognates in modern Celtic languages are Irish rith (in some dialects ruth or ruith, Scottish ruith/rith and Welsh rhedeg, both meaning "to run", as well as the Gaelic noun roth wheel.

Some scholars posit that the root rot- or rod- found in the name "Rhone" as well as in the name of many western European rivers, and whose original meaning seems to be "river", is in fact Pre-Indo-European. It would then be only a coincidence that it resembles the Proto-Celtic verb reto ("to run"). Further research is needed to decide between these two theories.

In French, the adjective derived from the river is rhodanien, as in le sillon rhodanien (literally "the furrow of the Rhone"), which is the name of the long, straight Saône and Rhone rivers valley, a deep cleft running due south to the Mediterranean and separating the Alps from the Massif Central.

Along the Rhone

Cities and towns along the Rhone include:

The Rhône Glacier above Oberwald, Switzerland is the source of the river.
The Rhone (left) meets the Arve River in Geneva, Switzerland.



See also

References and notes

  1. ^ "Classification of waterways".  
  2. ^ NoorderSoft Waterways Database
  3. ^ Swisstopo
  4. ^ a b The Rhône River: Hydromorphological and ecological rehabilitation of a heavily man-used hydrosystem
  5. ^ a b c Freeman, Philip. John T. Koch. ed. Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia. I. ABC-CLIO. pp. 901. ISBN 1-85109-440-7.  
  6. ^ McKnight, Hugh (September 2005). Cruising French Waterways (4th ed. ed.). Sheridan House. ISBN 978-1574092103.  

External links

Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010
(Redirected to Rhône article)

From Wikitravel

Rhône is a departement in France.

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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

There is more than one meaning of Rhone discussed in the 1911 Encyclopedia. We are planning to let all links go to the correct meaning directly, but for now you will have to search it out from the list below by yourself. If you want to change the link that led you here yourself, it would be appreciated.


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary



Wikipedia has an article on:


Etymology 1

Alternative spellings


Proper noun




  1. (geography) A river in Switzerland and France that flows from the Alps to the Mediterranean Sea.

Etymology 2

Proper noun



Rhone (plural Rhones)

  1. (Scottish dialect) A piece of horizontal guttering, collecting rainwater from a roof.


Simple English

Wikipedia does not yet have an article with this name.


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