(*) related to the HUMAN USAGE – subchapter 7: historical aspects
Rivers also are important lines of communication especially rivers with wide beds, slight slopes and regular flows. Navigable channels often link rivers and locks are sometimes used to move across uneven water levels. Waterways are mainly used to transport goods, passengers and for tourism.
In Europe, many channels and rivers are navigable, such as the Rhine and the Danube. Huge hydraulic works sometimes maintain the navigability of rivers, but deeply change the natural structure. For example, the depth of a river bed must be kept at a minimum level all year long for trade activities; for this purpose, channels and excavations are made (question 3 g).
Since ancient times, rivers have indicated great routes across the Earth. The proximity of rivers encouraged the settlement of people and the growth of their activities for centuries. Road systems were and are based on their courses, which are modes for communication and transport. A river is at the centre of all activity within its boundaries: to supply irrigation channels with water, to run watermills - therefore to serve as an energy source - to supply cities with water. Many cities were born as small villages on a river banks or on an island on the river (question 7 b-c). For example, Paris was founded by Celts on the Ile de la Cité in the middle of the river Seine more than 2000 years ago. When the city expanded it occupied both river banks and the river remained in the centre. Bridges, fixed structures to cross the river, were built to connect the two parts of the city. Based on the available materials, the historical age and the characteristics of the river, wood, stone, concrete and steel bridges were built using different structures, but with the same function. Several towns, like Florence in Italy , have bridges that sometimes are inhabited too (Ponte Vecchio) (questions subchapter 6: tourism and subchapter 4: urbanization).
Rivers were elements of union as well as division among people and nations. Since it was difficult to cross rivers, they were in fact effective means of defence. They were embanked, canalised, lead into ditches, and became political and military borders, rather than elements of unification of territories.
(*) related to the HUMAN USAGE – subchapter 6: tourism and 4: urbanisation
A river is a protagonist in human culture: in history, literature, architecture and art. The river is reproduced in pictures and writings because of its beauty and its meaning to man: spiritual, domestic, adventurous, unknown, etc. Since very ancient times, people exploited rivers by necessity as well as for recreation and adventure (this is illustrated by evidence dating back to the Assyro–Babylonian and Egyptian civilizations). Today, rivers are tourist destinations and places to practice various sports (rafting, kayaking, canoeing, mountain biking, sailing, rowing, etc.) (question 6 a-b-c). For tourism and recreation pursuit, remote and wild places are often reached, which are often the last ”natural refuges” for animals and plants. In order to protect these places, it is extremely important to adopt sustainable practices for these environments.
Today, environmental degradation, pollution and destruction of rivers and watersheds (question 4 a-b-c-d) symbolize the breaking up of the complex balance among land, water and life, which formed the basis for almost all civilizations. Land was very often exploited to produce wealth, without consideration of the ecological, as well as human and collective value of the wild environment, which gives man shelter and livelihood.