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Waters and mountains

 
photo:  (mojefoto.cz)
 

Waters and mountains are the dominant elements that constitute the uniqueness and variety of the Czech Republic's terrain. Mountain ranges surround the country on almost all sides and have served as a natural border in the past. Some of Europe's largest rivers, e. g. the Elbe (Labe), have their origins in the Czech Republic.

 
 

Waters

Experts speak of the territory of the Czech Republic as the roof of Europe. The main European watershed extends through the country, dividing the drainage areas of the north and south seas, which make Europe into a gigantic peninsula. Here we can even find the massif, Kralický Sněžník (1,423 meters), from which water runs into three different seas according to which slope receives rain. The North Sea, the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea meet here.

Another interesting fact is that the area of the three historical territories of the Czech Republic – Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia – are approximately equivalent with the most important catchment areas. Bohemia holds the Elbe catchment area, Moravia is the catchment area for the Morava and Silesia is the catchment area for the Oder.

Reservoirs are of great importance for the purposes of water management in the Czech Republic. The most important of these are artificial lakes, which were mostly built in enclosed river valleys. There are 150 artificial lakes in the Czech Republic. There is of course a higher number (approximately 21,000) of fishponds, which form an inherent part of the Czech countryside. One of the reasons for the establishment of these was the lack of natural lakes.

If we speak of the Czech Republic's waters, we must not forget to mention the mineral springs and spas. There is such a large number of these in the Czech lands that the standard definition of a mineral spring is much stricter here than in other European countries. Here we can find springs with various mineral ingredients, acidulous spring water containing carbon dioxide, hot and even radioactive springs. It is above all the West Bohemian spas that for centuries have been a hot spot for visitors from all over Europe and further afield.

The Elbe catchment area

The source of the Elbe River is in the highest Czech mountain range, the Krkonoše, and during its travels it meets almost all the rivers in Bohemia. The Vltava is the most important of these tributaries and drains the whole southern half of the Czech Republic. In addition, the capital city of Prague is situated on the Vltava, so it is rightly regarded as the Czech national river. After its confluence with the Vltava, the Elbe heads to the northwest, where the volcanic massif of the Central Bohemian Uplands stands in its path. The Elbe runs through this in a closed valley known as Porta Bohemica – the Bohemian Gate. Similarly, over its final few kilometers within the territory of the Czech Republic, the Elbe runs through a narrow valley between sandstone rocks known as Bohemian-Saxonian Switzerland. It then flows hundreds of kilometers further through Germany up to the river's mouth, where it empties into the North Sea.

The Morava catchment area

The most important river in Moravia is the Morava - the names of the historical land and the river are the same in the Czech language. The source of the Morava River is in Kralický Sněžník, the point of contact of three sea drainage areas in the Czech Republic. From here, it heads south through the lowlands of the Moravian depression and only at the southernmost tip of Moravia does it join up with the Dyje, the source of which is found in Austria, and drains the southwest part of Moravia. After passing the Austrian-Slovak border, the Morava continues on toward the Danube, which ends in the Black Sea after a long trek across Southeast Europe.

The Oder catchment area

Similarly, the catchment ar of the Oder River, which is the backbone of Silesia, only encroaches onto the territory of the Czech Republic to a small extent. The source of the Oder itself is in the relatively low Oderské vrchy highlands, although it is mainly in the Ostrava basin that the river is augmented by others flowing from the border mountain ranges of Hrubý Jeseník and the Moravian-Silesian Beskydy. Lysá hora, the location with the most rainfall in the Czech Republic, also lies within this catchment area. The Oder, similarly to the Elbe, then heads toward the northwest border of the Czech Republic to flow into the Baltic Sea at the Polish port of Szczecin.

Artificial akes

In order to stop water from flowing too swiftly out of the territory of the Czech Republic, several dozens of artificial lakes have been constructed over the past 100-plus years. The job of these artificial lakes is to influence the flow of Czech rivers – as support in times of drought and as protection against floods. They are currently used for energy and recreational purposes, and some are drinking water reservoirs. The oldest Czech artificial lakes were created at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, mostly in the mountainous and industrially developed northern border areas of what today constitutes the Czech Republic. In the second half of the 20th century the largest set of artificial lakes in the Czech Republic was built, the Vltava Cascade. The enclosed valley of the Vltava from Šumava at the southern border of Bohemia right up to Prague was used for its construction.

Fishponds

The tradition of establishing artificial water basins dates back in the Czech lands to the Middle Ages, when a large group of fishponds was created here, of which roughly a quarter have been preserved to this day. An undeniably spectacular work of this kind is the set of fishponds in the Třebon basin in South Bohemia, mostly established in the 16th century on the estate of the Rožmberk family. A large area of South Bohemia was then transformed from marshland into an enchanting region where bodies of water alternate with the untouched magic of the countryside. It is from here that carp most often comes - the traditional fish for Christmas dinner in the Czech Republic.

Lakes

Czech lakes can literally be counted on the fingers of both hands. We will need one hand for the Sumava mountain range in South Bohemia. On the Czech side of these mountains, a mountain glacier has created five mountain tarns. The largest of these is known as the Black Lake. We can find only a few smaller lakes outside of Šumava. They may not be especially large, but their origin is worth our attention. In North Moravia, in the municipality of Rejvíz, there are two peat lakes, and in West Bohemia, the Odlezelské (Mladotické) Lake was created by the blocking of the valley after a landslide in 1872. This was an unusual occurrence in such a geologically ancient territory as the Bohemian Massif. Maybe even more remarkable is the story of Kamencové Lake near the city of Chomutov in North Bohemia. A small lake existed here as far back as the Middle Ages and the local rock - alum - was mined nearby until the water extended into the mined area. Today, the lake is many times more extensive than the original one. Its renown, however, can be attributed to something completely different. As a result of the chemical composition of the water here, it contains no animal life whatsoever. On the other hand, it is excellent for bathing and so is a popular destination for visitors; and why not, when apparently there is only one other such place to be found in the whole world - and that's in California.

Mountains

The Bohemian basin is surrounded on all sides by an important mountainous belt; only eastward from Moravia is it then separated by the lower Czech-Moravian highlands. Two of the four Czech national parks protect the border mountain ranges – Šumava and the Krkonoše. The sources of the most important Czech rivers can also be found in these ranges – the Elbe in the Krkonoše and the Vltava in Šumava.

You can read more about Czech mountains online by visiting České hory or Holiday Info, where you can find rich photo galleries and online cameras. The highest mountain range in the Czech Republic is the Krkonoše, the ridge of which creates a natural border with the neighboring Republic of Poland.

At this point on the border, we can also find the highest mountain in the Czech Republic, called Sněžka (derived from the Czech word for snow), which is 1,602 m high. It truly lives up to its name – snow can be found here more than half the year. The area of the Krkonoše Mountains is one of the most sought-after regions for winter sports in the Czech Republic as a result of its snow conditions and steep slopes.

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Added: 06.01.2010
 
 
 

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14/11/2014