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This article is about a river in the Czech Republic. For the symphonic poem, see Má vlast.
The Vltava's bend in Prague
Country Czech Republic
Regions South Bohemia, Central Bohemia
 - left Otava, Berounka
 - right Lužnice, Sázava
Cities Český Krumlov, České Budějovice, Prague
Source Černý potok
 - location Černá hora, Bohemian Forest
 - elevation 1,172 m (3,845 ft)
 - coordinates 48°58′29″N 13°33′39″E / 48.97472°N 13.56083°E / 48.97472; 13.56083
Mouth Elbe
 - location Mělník
 - elevation 155 m (509 ft)
 - coordinates 50°20′29″N 14°28′30″E / 50.34139°N 14.47500°E / 50.34139; 14.47500Coordinates: 50°20′29″N 14°28′30″E / 50.34139°N 14.47500°E / 50.34139; 14.47500
Length 430 km (267 mi)
Basin 28,090 km2 (10,846 sq mi)
 - average 149.9 m3/s (5,294 cu ft/s)
The course and drainage basin of the Vltava from its source to its confluence with the Elbe (magenta)
The course and drainage basin of the Vltava from its source to its confluence with the Elbe (magenta)
Wikimedia Commons: Vltava

The Vltava (Czech pronunciation: [ˈvl̩tava]; German: Moldau, IPA: [ˈmɔldaʊ]) is the longest river within the Czech Republic, running southeast along the Bohemian Forest and then north across Bohemia, through Český Krumlov, České Budějovice and Prague, and finally merging with the Elbe at Mělník. It is commonly referred to as the Czech national river.


It is 430 kilometres (270 mi) long and drains about 28,090 square kilometres (10,850 sq mi), more than a half of Bohemia and about a third of the entire Czech Republic. At its confluence with the Elbe, the Vltava actually has more water than the Elbe and is even much longer, but it joins the Elbe at a right angle to its straight course so that it appears to be a tributary. As it runs through Prague, the river is crossed by 18 bridges (including the famous Charles Bridge, shown below) and covers 31 kilometres (19 mi) within the city.[1] The water from the river was used for drinking. For instance, until 1912, the Vinohrady Water Tower pumped the water directly from the river.[2]

Several dams were built on it in the 1950s, the largest (by volume) being the Orlík Dam, while the Lipno Dam in the Bohemian Forest (Czech: Šumava) retains the largest reservoir by area. In August 2002, the Vltava basin was heavily affected by the 2002 European floods and the flooded river killed several people and caused massive damage and disruption along its length, including Prague.

The height difference from source to mouth is about 1,016 metres (3,333 ft) and the largest stream at the source is named Černý Potok (Black Brook). The Vltava itself originates by a confluence of two streams, the Warm Vltava (Teplá Vltava), which is longer, and the Cold Vltava (Studená Vltava), sourcing in Bavaria. Along its course, Vltava receives many tributaries, the biggest being Otava and Berounka from the left and Lužnice and Sázava from the right side. Its section around Český Krumlov (specifically from Vyšší Brod to Boršov nad Vltavou) is a very popular destination of water tourism.

The Vltava as it flows under the Charles Bridge in Prague


Both the Czech name Vltava and the German name Moldau are believed to originate from the old Germanic words *wilt ahwa[3] ("wild water") (cf. Latin aqua). In Annales Fuldenses (872 AD) it is called Fuldaha; from 1113 AD it is attested as Wultha. In Chronica Boemorum (1125 AD) it is attested for the first time in its bohemised form as Wlitaua.

Use in culture and science[edit]

One of the best-known works of classical music by a Czech composer is Bedřich Smetana's Vltava, which is usually called The Moldau on recordings and in programmes. It is from the Romantic era of classical music and is a musical depiction of the river's course through Bohemia (listen).

A minor planet 2123 Vltava discovered in 1973 by Soviet astronomer Nikolai Stepanovich Chernykh is named after the river.[4]

Smetana's symphonic poem also inspired a song of the same name by Bertolt Brecht. An English version of it, by John Willett, features the lyrics Deep down in the Moldau the pebbles are shifting / In Prague three dead emperors moulder away.[5]


  1. ^ Source : Avantgarde Prague
  2. ^ Water Tower of Vinohrady, stovezata.praha.eu, retrieved 14 November 2013
  3. ^ Šmilauer, Vladimír (1946). "O jménech našich řek" [Names of our rivers]. Naše řeč (in Czech) (Institute of the Czech Language) 30 (9-10): 161–165. ISSN 0027-8203. 
  4. ^ Schmadel, Lutz D. (2003). Dictionary of Minor Planet Names (5th ed.). New York: Springer Verlag. p. 172. ISBN 3-540-00238-3. Retrieved 2009-10-09. 
  5. ^ "The song of the Moldau". Anti War Songs. 21 August 2012. Retrieved 25 September 2013. 

See also[edit]

External links[edit]