Improvements in navigation over the years have made a Main River cruise possible today. At one time, transport went primarily downstream, as this was the only direction that vessels could easily cruise the river. Upstream river travel was difficult and achieved by men or horses towing the ships. In the 19th century, chain shipping made the river more navigable, employing steam-powered tugs that used a chain laid in the river’s bed to haul barges upstream. The use of locks today allows even large river cruise and transport ships to reach Bamberg and the Main-Danube Canal. Without those locks, travelers wouldn’t be able to experience a cruise on the Main in quite the same way.
The Main-Danube Canal
Throughout history, mankind has tried to alter the course of Europe’s major rivers. Twelve hundred years ago, Charlemagne dreamed of connecting the Rhine, Main and Danube Rivers into one watercourse between the North Sea and Black Sea. At that time, construction difficulties proved insurmountable, though a connecting trench was successfully built. The upheaval of wars in Europe also caused delay in the achievement of Charlemagne’s ambition. In 1992, this dream was realized with the opening of the Main-Danube Canal. The 106-mile-long canal created a 2,200-mile-long waterway for commercial and cruise ships alike to pass through 15 countries and stop at hundreds of inland ports. Due largely to the efforts of environmental groups, the canal was masterfully designed to blend into the natural landscape, making it difficult for cruise voyagers to distinguish the artificial waterway.
A Picturesque River Cruise
Known to the Romans as “Moenus” and called “Meune” in the German Song of the Nibelungs, the Main River provides a cruise through charming scenery and insights into the rich history of the region. The Main flows through Germany from modern, densely populated Mainz to more traditional medieval Bavarian towns where wine and leather goods are manufactured. By this point, the river cruise has become extraordinarily scenic, as the river is lined with lovely forests and small towns and dotted with hilltop castles and churches, some in good repair and others in states of picturesque ruin.
Palaces and castles abound along the river cruise path. Johannisburg Palace sits prominently above the town of Aschaffenburg with a spectacular view of the river. The architectural masterpieces of Balthasar Neumann, such as the Bishops’ Residenz, adorn the beautiful city of Würzburg. The city suffered massive damage during World War II, with roughly 85% of it lying in ruins at the war’s end, but Würzburg has been rebuilt in the years since and, happily for river cruise visitors, most of Würzburg’s historic buildings have been restored to their former glory. Every town along the Main has something exceptional to offer, from fascinating history to breathtaking views.
History and Culture Along the River
Würzburg boasts more than amazing architecture. Being surrounded by idyllic vineyards, it is in the heart of the Franconian wine region. Cruise visitors from throughout the world may be familiar with the taste of these wines and the distinctive flattened, bulbous shape of their bottles.
From Würzburg, Germany’s famous “Romantic Road” travels away from the river and toward the well-preserved medieval town of Rothenburg. Also known as Rothenburg ob der Tauber, this charming town overlooks the Tauber River and contains buildings with impressive architecture, ranging from Gothic to Baroque.
Bamberg is another town in the region that is filled with culture and history. Founded in 902, the Old Town of Bamberg is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site that features a stunning 11th-century cathedral that holds the tomb of Pope Clement II and a 17th-century house, the Neue Residenz, which once belonged to bishops. Bamberg is also known for its symphony orchestra and its unique smoky beer, called Rauchbier. The many towns and magnificent architectural sights seen on a river cruise display the area’s rich history and enduring culture.