Vistula (/ˈvɪstjʊlə/; Polish:
Wisła [ˈvʲiswa], German:
Weichsel [ˈvaɪksl̩], Low German: Wießel, Yiddish: ווייסל
Yiddish pronunciation: [vajsl̩]) is the longest and largest
river in Poland, at 1,047 kilometres (651 miles) in length. The
drainage basin area of the
Vistula is 194,424 km2
(75,068 sq mi), of which 168,699 km2
(65,135 sq mi) lies within
Poland (splitting the country in
half). The remainder is in Belarus,
Ukraine and Slovakia.
Vistula rises at
Barania Góra in the south of Poland, 1,220
meters (4,000 ft) above sea level in the Silesian Beskids
(western part of Carpathian Mountains), where it begins with the White
Vistula (Biała Wisełka) and the Black Little
Wisełka). It then continues to flow over the vast Polish plains,
passing several large Polish cities along its way, including Kraków,
Sandomierz, Warsaw, Płock, Włocławek, Toruń, Bydgoszcz, Świecie,
Tczew and Gdańsk. It empties into the
(Zalew Wiślany) or directly into the
Gdańsk Bay of the Baltic Sea
with a delta and several branches (Leniwka, Przekop, Śmiała Wisła,
Nogat and Szkarpawa).
4 Major cities and towns along
5 Delta of the
5.2 Climate change and the flooding of the
6 Geological history
8 Historical relevance
8.1 Main trading artery
8.2 World War II
9 See also
11 External links
The name was first recorded by
Pomponius Mela in AD 40 and by
Pliny in AD 77 in his Natural History. Mela names the river
Vistula (3.33), Pliny uses Vistla (4.81, 4.97, 4.100). The root of the
Vistula is Indo-European *u̯eis- 'to ooze, flow slowly' (cf.
Sanskrit अवेषन् / aveṣan 'they flowed',
Old Norse veisa
'slime') and is found in many European rivernames (e.g. Weser,
Viesinta). The diminutive endings -ila, -ula, were used in many
Indo-European languages, including Latin (see Ursula).
In writing about the
Vistula River and its peoples,
Ptolemy uses the
Greek spelling Ouistoula. Other ancient sources spell it Istula.
Ammianus Marcellinus refers to the Bisula (Book 22); note the
absence of the -t-. Jordanes (Getica 5 & 17) uses Viscla,
while the Anglo-Saxon poem
Widsith refers to it as the Wistla.
12th-century Polish chronicler
Wincenty Kadłubek Latinised the
rivername as Vandalus, a form presumably influenced by Lithuanian
vanduõ 'water', while
Jan Długosz in his Annales seu cronicae
incliti regni Poloniae called the
Vistula 'white waters' (Alba aqua),
perhaps referring to the White Little
Vistula (Biała Wisełka): "a
nationibus orientalibus Polonis vicinis, ob aquae candorem Alba
aqua ... nominatur."
Vistula river is formed in the southern
Silesian Voivodeship of
Poland from two sources, the Czarna ("Black") Wisełka at an altitude
of 1,107 m (3,632 ft) and the Biała ("White") Wisełka at
an altitude of 1,080 m (3,540 ft) on the western slope of
Barania Góra in the Silesian Beskids.
The reaches of the
Vistula are composed of three stretches: upper,
from its sources to the city of Sandomierz; centre, from
the mouth of
Narew and Bug; and bottom, from mouth of
Vistula's own delta at the Baltic.
Vistula river basin covers 194,424 square kilometres (75,068
square miles) (in
Poland 168,700 square kilometres (65,135 square
miles)); its average altitude rising to 270 metres (886 feet) above
sea level. In addition, the majority of its river basin (55%) is
located at heights of 100 to 200 m above sea level; over 3⁄4
of the river basin ranges from 100 to 300 metres (328 to 984 feet) in
altitude. The highest point of the river basin lies at 2,655 metres
(8,711 feet) (Gerlach Peak in the Tatra mountains). One of the
features of the river basin of the
Vistula is its asymmetry—in great
measure resulting from the tilting direction of the Central-European
Lowland toward the north-west, the direction of the flow of glacial
waters, as well as considerable predisposition of its older base. The
asymmetry of the river basin (right-hand to left-hand side) is
The most recent glaciation of the
Pleistocene epoch, which ended
around 10,000 BC, is called the Vistulian glaciation or Weichselian
glaciation in regard to north-central Europe.
Major cities and towns along
Vistula River in the vicinity of Płock, Poland
Vistula River flowing through Kraków, Poland
Wawel Castle in
Kraków seen from the
Royal Castle in
Sandomierz seen from the
Renaissance town of
Kazimierz Dolny overlooking serene Vistula
Grudziądz seen from the left riverside of the Vistula
river, 13th–17th century
Wisła (Silesian Voivodeship)
river source: Biała Wisełka and Czarna Wisełka
Sanka, Rudawa, Prądnik, Dłubnia, Wilga (most are canalized streams)
Józefów nad Wisłą
Solec nad Wisłą
Żerań canal (incl. several smaller streams)
Czerwińsk nad Wisłą
Słupianka, Rosica, Brzeźnica, Skrwa Lewa, Skrwa Prawa
Dobrzyń nad Wisłą
Delta of the
The river forms a wide delta called the
Żuławy Wiślane around the
town of Biała Góra near Sztum, about 50 km (31 mi) from
the mouth, splitting into two branches: the
Leniwka (left) and the
Nogat (right). In the city of
Gdańsk the Head of the
separates again into the
Szkarpawa branch, for the purpose of flood
control closed to the east with a lock. The so-called Dead Wisła
divides again into the Przegalinie branch flowing into
Until the 14th century the
Vistula was divided into a main eastern
Elbląg Vistula, and the smaller western branch, the
Gdańsk Vistula. Since 1371 the
Gdańsk is the river's main
artery. After the flood in 1840 an additional branch formed called the
Śmiała Wisła ("Bold Vistula"). In 1890 through 1895, additional
waterworks were carried out up the Świbna. The
Nogat formed part of
the border between East Prussia and interwar Poland.
Vistula divides into two separate branches that
constitute the river delta:
Motława, Radunia, Potok Oliwski
in the city the river divides into several separate branches that
Baltic Sea at different points, the main branch reaches the
sea at Westerplatte
shortly before reaching
List of right and left tributaries with a nearby city, from source to
Narew—Nowy Dwór Mazowiecki
Krępianka—Solec nad Wisłą
Climate change and the flooding of the
Widespread flooding along the
Vistula River in south-eastern Poland
According to flood studies carried out by Professor Zbigniew Pruszak,
who is the co-author of the scientific paper Implications of SLR
and further studies carried out by scientists attending Poland's Final
International ASTRA Conference, and predictions stated by climate
scientists at the climate change pre-summit in Copenhagen, it is
highly likely most of the
Vistula Delta region (which is below sea
level) will be flooded due to the sea level rise caused by climate
change by 2100.
The history of the River
Vistula and her valley spans over 2 million
years. The river is connected to the geological period called the
Quaternary, in which distinct cooling of the climate took place. In
the last million years, an ice sheet entered the area of
times, bringing along with it changes of reaches of the river. In
warmer periods, when the ice sheet retreated, the
Vistula deepened and
widened its valley. The river took its present shape within the last
14,000 years, after complete recession of the Scandinavian ice sheet
from the area. At present, along the
Vistula valley, erosion of the
banks and collecting of new deposits are still occurring.
As the principal river of Poland, the
Vistula is also located in the
centre of Europe. Three principal geographical and geological land
masses of the continent meet in her river basin: the lowland Eastern
European shield, the area of uplands and low mountains of Western
Europe, and the Alpine zone of high mountains to which both the Alps
Carpathians belong. The
Vistula begins in the Carpathian
mountains. The run and character of the river was shaped by ice sheets
flowing down from the Scandinavian Peninsula. The last ice sheet
entered the area of
Poland about 20,000 years ago. During periods of
warmer weather, the ancient Vistula, "Pra-Wisła", searched for the
shortest way to the sea—thousands of years ago it flowed into the
North Sea somewhere at the latitude of contemporary Scotland. The
climate of the
Vistula valley, its plants, animals and its very
character changed considerably during the process of glacial
Lake Morskie Oko, White
Vistula flooding south of Warsaw, 2004
Vistula in Płock
Vistula is navigable from the
Baltic Sea to
Bydgoszcz (where the
Bydgoszcz Canal joins the river). The
Vistula can accommodate modest
river vessels of CEMT class II. Farther upstream the river depth
lessens. Although a project was undertaken to increase the
traffic-carrying capacity of the river upstream of
Warsaw by building
a number of locks in and around Kraków, this project was not extended
further, so that navigability of the
Vistula remains limited. The
potential of the river would increase considerably if a restoration of
the East-West connection via the
Narew–Bug–Mukhovets–Pripyat–Dnieper waterways were considered.
The shifting economic importance of parts of Europe may make this
option more likely.
Vistula valley east (upstream) of Toruń
Large parts of the
Vistula Basin were occupied by the Iron Age
Lusatian and Przeworsk cultures in the first millennium BC. Genetic
analysis indicates that there has been an unbroken genetic
continuity[clarification needed] of the inhabitants over the last
3,500 years. The
Vistula Basin along with the lands of the Rhine,
Danube, Elbe, and
Oder came to be called
Magna Germania by Roman
authors of the 1st century AD. This doesn't imply that the
inhabitants were "Germanic" in the modern sense of the term; Tacitus,
when describing the Venethi,
Peucini and Fenni, wrote that he was not
sure if he should call them Germans, since they had settlements and
they fought on foot, or rather
Sarmatians since they have some similar
customs to them. Ptolemy, in the 2nd century AD, would describe
Vistula as the border between
Germania and Sarmatia.
Death of Princess Wanda, by Maksymilian Piotrowski, 1859
Vistula river used to be connected to the Dnieper River, and
thence to the
Black Sea via the Augustów Canal, a technological
marvel with numerous sluices contributing to its aesthetic appeal. It
was the first waterway in
Central Europe to provide a direct link
between the two major rivers, the
Vistula and the Neman. It provided a
link with the
Black Sea to the south through the Oginski Canal,
Dnieper River, Berezina Canal, and Dvina River. The Baltic
Black Sea route with its rivers was one of
the most ancient trade routes, the Amber Road, on which amber and
other items were traded from
Northern Europe to Greece, Asia, Egypt,
A Vistulan stronghold in
Wiślica once stood here.
Vistula estuary was settled by Slavs in the 7th and 8th
century. Based on archeological and linguistic findings, it has
been postulated that these settlers moved northward along the Vistula
river. This however contradicts another hypothesis supported by
some researchers saying the
Veleti moved westward from the Vistula
A number of West Slavic
Polish tribes formed small dominions beginning
in the 8th century, some of which coalesced later into larger ones.
Among the tribes listed in the Bavarian Geographer's 9th century
document were the
Vistulans (Wiślanie) in southern Poland. Kraków
Wiślica were their main centres.
Many Polish legends are connected with the
Vistula and the beginnings
of Polish statehood. One of the most enduring is that about princess
Wanda co nie chciała Niemca (who rejected the German). According
to the most popular variant, popularized by the 15th-century historian
Jan Długosz, Wanda, daughter of King Krak, became queen of the
Poles upon her father's death. She refused to marry a German
prince Rytigier (Rüdiger), who took offence and invaded Poland, but
was repelled. Wanda however committed suicide, drowning in the
Vistula river, to ensure he would not invade her country again.
Main trading artery
The 11th century Benedictine Abbey in
Tyniec overlooks the Vistula.
For hundreds of years the river was one of the main trading arteries
of Poland, and the castles that line its banks were highly prized
possessions. Salt, timber, grain, and building stone were among goods
shipped via that route between the 10th and 13th centuries.
Vistula river near the
Duke of Masovia
Duke of Masovia Castle in Czersk
In the 14th century the lower
Vistula was controlled by the Teutonic
Knights Order, invited in 1226 by
Konrad I of Masovia
Konrad I of Masovia to help him
fight the pagan Prussians on the border of his lands. In 1308 the
Teutonic Knights captured the
Gdańsk castle and murdered the
population. Since then the event is known as the Gdańsk
slaughter. The Order had inherited
Gniew from Sambor II, thus gaining
a foothold on the left bank of the Vistula. Many granaries and
storehouses, built in the 14th century, line the banks of the
Vistula. In the 15th century the city of
Gdańsk gained great
importance in the Baltic area as a centre of merchants and trade and
as a port city. While at this time the surrounding lands were
inhabited by Pomeranians,
Gdańsk soon became a starting point for
German settlement of the largely fallow Vistulan country.
Before its peak in 1618, trade increased by a factor of 20 from 1491.
This factor is evident when looking at the tonnage of grain traded on
the river in the key years of: 1491: 14,000; 1537: 23,000; 1563:
150,000; 1618: 310,000.
Vistula river in
Warsaw near the end of the 16th century. The right
side shows the Sigismund Augustus bridge built 1568–1573 by Erazm
Cziotko (c. 500 m (1,600 ft) long).
In the 16th century most of the grain exported was leaving Poland
through Gdańsk, which because of its location at the terminal point
Vistula and its tributaries waterway and of its Baltic seaport
trade role became the wealthiest, most highly developed (by far the
largest center of crafts and manufacturing) and most autonomous of the
Polish cities. Other towns were negatively affected by Gdańsk's
near-monopoly in foreign trade. During the reign of Stephen Báthory
Poland ruled two main
Baltic Sea ports: Gdańsk controlling the
Vistula river trade and
Riga controlling the Western Dvina trade. Both
cities were among the largest in the country. Around 70% the exports
Gdańsk were of grain.
Grain was also the largest export commodity of the Polish–Lithuanian
Commonwealth. The volume of traded grain can be considered a good and
well-measured proxy for the economic growth of the Commonwealth.
Vistula river (Vistvla fluvivs) in
Toruń in 1641
The owner of a folwark usually signed a contract with the merchants of
Gdańsk, who controlled 80% of this inland trade, to ship the grain
north to that seaport on the Baltic Sea. Many rivers in the
Commonwealth were used for shipping purposes, including the Vistula.
The river had a relatively well-developed infrastructure, with river
ports and granaries. Most river shipping travelled north, with
southward transport being less profitable, and barges and rafts often
being sold off in
Gdańsk for lumber.
In order to arrest recurrent flooding on the lower Vistula, the
Prussian government in 1889–95 constructed an artificial channel
about 12 kilometres (7 miles) east of
Gdańsk (German name:
Danzig)—known as the
Vistula Cut (German: Weichseldurchstich;
Przekop Wisły)—that acted as a huge sluice, diverting much
Vistula flow directly into the Baltic. As a result, the
Vistula channel through
Gdańsk lost much of its flow, and
was known thereafter as the Dead
Vistula (German: Tote Weichsel;
Polish: Martwa Wisła). German states got complete control of the
region in 1795–1812 (see: Partitions of Poland), as well as during
the World Wars, in 1914–1918 and 1939–1945.
Jewish Feast of trumpets (Polish: Święto trąbek) at the banks of
the Vistula, Aleksander Gierymski, 1884
From 1867 to 1917, the Russian tsarist administration called the
Vistula Land after the collapse of the January
Almost 75% of the territory of interbellum
Poland was drained
northward into the
Baltic Sea by the
Vistula (total area of drainage
basin of the
Vistula within boundaries of the Second Polish Republic
was 180,300 km²), the
Niemen (51,600 km²), the Odra
(46,700 km²) and the Daugava (10,400 km²).
Kierbedzia Bridge over the
Warsaw (c. 1900). This
framework bridge was constructed by
Stanisław Kierbedź in
1850–1864. It was destroyed by the Germans in 1944.
In 1920 the decisive battle of the
Warsaw (sometimes referred to as the Miracle at the Vistula), was
Red Army forces commanded by
Mikhail Tukhachevsky approached
the Polish capital of
Warsaw and nearby
Modlin Fortress situated on
the mouth of the Vistula.
World War II
Polish September campaign
Polish September campaign included battles over control of the
mouth of the Vistula, and of the city of Gdańsk, so close to the
river delta. During the Invasion of
Poland (1939), after the initial
battles in Pomerelia, the remains of the Polish Army of Pomerania
withdrew to the southern bank of the Vistula. After defending
Toruń for several days, the army withdrew further south under
pressure of the overall strained strategic situation, and took part in
the main battle of Bzura.
Auschwitz complex of concentration camps was located on the
Vistula, at the confluence of the
Vistula and the
Ashes of murdered
Auschwitz victims were dumped into the river.
World War II
World War II prisoners of war from the Nazi
Stalag XX-B camp
were assigned to cut ice blocks from the River Vistula. The ice would
then be transported by truck to the local beer houses.
Warsaw Uprising was planned with the expectation that the
Soviet forces, who had arrived in the course of their offensive and
were waiting on the other side of the
Vistula River in full force,
would help in the battle for Warsaw. However the Soviets let down
the Poles, stopping their advance at the
Vistula and branding the
insurgents as criminals in radio broadcasts.
In early 1945 the
Red Army crossed the
Vistula and drove the German
Wehrmacht back past the
Oder river in Germany in the Vistula–Oder
Rivers of Poland
Geography of Poland
Barania Góra - Tam, gdzie biją źródła Wisły at
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Wikimedia Commons has media related to Vistula.
Geographic data related to
Vistula at OpenStreetMap
Vistula at GEOnet Names Server
Tributaries of the
Main tributaries of the left bank
Main tributaries of the right bank
Poland by watershed