Yesterday, I shared the location of Flushing Creek’s source, an unexpected display of stonework amid the marshes. Even the mightiest of streams have their beginnings in humble circumstances. On account of their fame, surrounding cultures have often designated the sources of such streams with shrines and monuments. Here are a few examples:
The second longest river in France and the central feature of Paris, the Seine has its origin at the village of Source-Seine in the Côte-d’Or department. Since ancient times, its spring has been a pilgrimage site. In pre-Roman times, the indigenous Gallic tribes built a shrine to Sequana, the nymph of the Seine. The pagan shrine was destroyed by Christian Roman emperor Theodosius I. With the advent of modern nationalism in the 19th century, European countries looked to their histories for inspiration with archaeologists uncovering historic monuments related to pre-Christian times. In 1864, the city of Paris purchased the property surrounding the source and in the following year, an artificial cave was built with a statue of the Seine’s nymph.
The second longest river in the United Kingdom that bisects the city of London, Thames has its furthest reach in a spring underneath an ash tree, where an inscription reads:
THE CONSERVATORS OF THE RIVER THAMES
THIS STONE WAS PLACED HERE TO MARK THE
SOURCE OF THE RIVER THAMES
The marker near the village of Kemble in Gloucestershire is known as Thames Head but for most of the year, the spring is dry and another location a further five miles upstream is also claimed as the furthest source of the Thames. Seven Springs in the Cotswold hills is 220 miles from the river’s mouth. This site also has its own plaque, inscribed in Latin.
The longest river in Italy has its headwaters on the northern slope of Monte Viso (Monviso) in the Cottian Alps. An undated rock marks the spot where water breaks out of the ground, at 6,900 feet above sea level. From there, it descends eastward to its mouth on the Adriatic Sea.
The Danube is the river of Europe, flowing through 10 of the continent’s countries and the national capital cities of Vienna, Bratislava, Belgrade and Budapest before flowing into the Black Sea. In the German state of Baden-Wurttemberg, two towns stake rival claims as the true sources of the great river. The Baroque-style Donauaquelle pool above is in Donaueschingen, where a the courtyard of Prince von Fursterberg’s castle overlooks the source. In 1875, architect Adolf Weinbrenner designed as a circular spring pool and with decorations by Franz Xaver Reich.
Nearby at Furtwangen, another spring is also credited as the source of the Danube, featuring a more humble recognition with a plaque.
In contrast to Donaueschingen, the Furtwangen spring appears more natural, hidden in the Black Forest.
The world’s largest country has many great rivers but when it comes to telling the nation’s story, the Volga is Russia’s answer to the Mississippi. At its source, a Russian Orthodox church welcomes visitors. From ancient times, the headwaters were believed to have healing powers and the picturesque brook was a destination for pilgrims. In 1649, Tsar Alexey Mikhailovich decreed the founding of the Volgoverkhovsky Spaso-Preobrazhensky monastery. The convent later suffered a fire, replaced with a humble wooden hut as a church. As Russia is reasserting its identity in recent years, so is its celebration of national symbols. In 1999, Patriarch of Russia Alexy II reconsecrated the source of the Volga as an Orthodox convent.
As an urban river, the Volga flows through the ancient cities of Tver, Nizhny Novgorod, Yaroslavl, Moscow, Kazan, Volgograd, and Astrakhan. During the Second World War, my maternal great-grandfather and paternal grandfather escaped to the eastern side of the Volga ahead of the Nazis. Both crossed back in service of the country with my great-grandfather killed in action and my grandfather surviving as a disabled veteran. The tide of the war turned at the banks of the Volga.
The river that flows down the middle of the United States has its designated start at Lake Itasca in northern Minnesota. The location of the Mississippi’s true source was a subject of much controversy in the early 19th century, including the designation of the Northwest Angle as part of the United States. In 1832, local native guide Ozawindib brought explorer Henry Schoolcraft to Omashkoozo-zaaga’igan (Elk Lake). Schoolcraft subsequently changed the native name to Itasca, a portmanteau of the Latin words Latin words for “truth” and “head” (veritas caput).
In the News:
The campaign to free Tibbetts Brook from its watery dungeon received the attention of the New York Times today. Reporter Jim Dwyer interviewed urban explorer Steven Duncan on his upcoming presentation arguing in favor of daylighting Tibbetts Brook in the Bronx.
Books on Famous Streams
As today is Wednesday, I would like to share some stream-related reading materials. In keeping with today’s international theme, the books presented deal with their respective streams. Not so hidden, unless we are discussing their beginnings. Click on the titles for details.
Yangtze, left; Amur (Heilongjiang), right.
Lena, left; Volga and Mississippi, right
If there’s any book that explains the history of humans bestowing divine status to certain hills, streams, valleys and islands, it’s Simon Schama’s “Landscape and Memory, published by Vintage in 1996. Truly one of the greatest books that melds natural and human history in geography. Brilliant.
That’s all for now, but expect more books next week.