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Moravia and the Moravian Gate - Beginning of navigation on Moravia

It is surprising that for centuries projects of canals leading to the west and north from the Danube had avoided the easiest route to pass the European watershed – via the unusually low Moravian Gate. By land, the route was used as early as in Neolith for so-called Amber Trail. From its fields on the Baltic amber was shipped along the trail to the far south. Baltic amber was later found in tombs of pharaohs, in Babylonia, in Crete, and in Mycenae. There are also interesting remarks about small boats coming along the Morava all the way to the mouth of the Bečva, i.e. to the immediate proximity of the low watershed. Similarly, on the Oder they used to reach the mouth of the Opava. In its decrees, the Moravian Land Assembly made sure that dams, built for the water power utilization, would not prevent boats and rafts from free passing.

Stará rytina zachycující řeku Moravu pod hradem Devín dokumentuje, že lodě byly proti proudu taženy koňmi 

Old engraving showing the Morava river below the castle Devin documented that the ships were pulled upstream by horses.


“About timber floating on the river Morava, when it gets watered, as we have agreed, all who own shutters on the Morava, must see to it that timber could freely float, i.e. namely from the upcoming st. Wenceslas’ Day. Those not providing for the free floating channel as mentioned above will be fined to pay 100 three-scores of sous to the Land.”

The Decree of the Moravian Land Assembly from Monday after St. John the Baptist’s Day (June 26th, 1542)  

Consequently, a special committee for inspection of the bad navigational situation was established on May 11th, 1579. As early as at the Moravian Land Assembly meeting in 1653, its representatives agreed not only to make the Morava navigable but also to connect it to the Oder. The decree could be considered the first impulse for building the Danube – Oder canal.  

"As His royal and Imperial Highness continuously and most graciously remembers the common wealth of the hereditary margraviate, namely, he likes to see to better and fluent trading with the neighbouring lands, as well as to ease the pass of goods and crafts available there, and to provide such means as to achieve these goals. since different reports have humbly advised His royal and Imperial Highness that the Morava river was found rather convenient for boating, he liked to pass it down to his duets and obedient estates for considering and thorough examination in order not to omit immediate employing of certain subjects to execute the task with a minimum cost and delay."

The Special Article on Establishing Navigation on the Morava from 1653  

The Assembly indeed did not “omit” anything and delegated a committee from all the involved assembly estates. At the same time, Ferdinand III, advised by the court chamber, addressed a letter to the current Moravian district officer Count Johann from Rottal (dated September 30, 1653 in Regensburg). He announces that at the last conference of the land chamber it was proposed to ship the Alpine salt along the Danube and Morava Rivers instead on horse carts. The emperor obviously liked the possibility of lowering the shipping costs and the consequent rise of the profit. So he sends to Moravia the Italian architect and engineer, Filibert Luchese, to inspect the course of the river and propose a solution how to regulate it for navigation. Having obtained a district officer’s patent, Luchese immediately sets off. On February 13, 1654, he already reports back to the Emperor. In his extensive report, he proposes to clear the riverbanks and establish a towpath, as well as to build 15 pools, which would periodically release water in case of drought. On March 9, 1654, the Court Chamber passed the project to the Czech Court Office, with the Land District Officer recommendation to cover all costs by corveé labour. However, the unsettled times never allowed the project to get any further: on April 2, 1657 Emperor Ferdinand III died and his ancestor Leopold I discontinued his efforts. Shortly afterwards, the Osmanian troops burst into Moravia, and when in 1663, the army besieged Vienna, the court probably worried about completely different things.  


Lothar Vogemont  

Lothar Vogemont’s Moravian activities mark another historical milestone. His person as well as his remarkable ideas is mentioned in tracts and essays on numerous European waterway projects. His origin has never been fully clarified. Some sources call him a Lotrine priest, which also matches his surname – “a Vogeso monte”, i.e. from the Vosges Mountains. Some assume his origin was Dutch. The only certain thing is that one of his Latin tracts named „Dissertatio de utilitate, possibilitate et modo conjuctionis Danubii cum Odera, Vistula & Albi fluviis, per canalem navigabilem“ (Dissertation on utility, possibility and manner of connecting the Danube with the Oder, Vistula and Elbe Rivers by a navigable canal) from 1700 is the first actual proposal of the connection of the Danube not only with the Oder, but also with the Elbe, i.e. the very first project of a complete interconnection the Danube – Oder – Elbe as perceived today. Meanwhile its routing employed the lowest passes of the European watershed – the Moravian Gate and the relatively low mountain range gaps around Česká Třebová. The author must have been thoroughly familiar with the details of the river network and terrain along the line dividing the Danube, the North Sea and the Baltic Sea catchment areas. A more profound examination of the above-mentioned tract, however, leads to a surprising discovery, which slightly complicates the picture of the mysterious Vogemont and his lucid ideas. It impels deeper pondering on the ideas commonly shared 300 years ago. The subtitle of the dissertation suggests a lot: “cum duobus paradoxis demonstratis de motu aquae in fluminibus“ [With the explanation of two opposing opinions on water flowing in riverbeds]. What does it actually stand for? Although Vogemont had a correct idea of the easiest routes for crossing the European watershed, he was fatally wrong as for the most convenient manner of its technical realization. More than half of his tract is dedicated to the reasons why water flows in flatland rivers even though the surface – as Vogemont assumes – is horizontal, i.e. it has no incline. He claims that the reason is to be found in the inflowing water of the river feeders: it displaces a certain area and thus makes the water masses move along the horizontal riverbed. He even refers to the contemporary top scientists.  

"The thing is rather clear. Those are the words of Mr. Gulielmini, a noted mathematician at the university in Bologna, who clarifies the phenomenon in his recent and most commendable work titled “A tract on the meaning of flowing waters“, head I, chapter 3, par. 1... Movement of the water stream ahead is based on the physical law, which says that the first cannot take place of the other, unless the place is vacated."

Lothar Vogemont: „Dissertatio de utilitate, possibilitate et modo conjuctionis Danubii cum Odera, Vistula & Albi fluviis, per canalem navigabilem“, Notes, par. 2 and 5.  

 This mistake, supported by other reasoning and drafts, leads him to a conclusion that water could flow even along a tangent to the Earth globe surface, e.g. it could flow in a “horizontal” canal from the meeting of the Morava with the Dyje to the watershed with no need for construction of a lock cascade. Although the first canals with such locks were built exactly in his time, and Vogemont must have been familiar with their construction (in his tract he refers to the technical solution of the above mentioned French canal du Languedoc), he considered the alternative option with such devices much less convenient.  Strictly speaking, the notion of horizontal surface of flowing water, which Vogemont as well as other contemporary scholars recognized, contradicts Bernoulli’s theorem on the rules of fluid flow, and even the law of conservation of energy. Incidentally, Daniel Bernoulli, a significant Swiss mathematician and physicist, who introduced the basic rules of hydrodynamics, was only born in 1700, the year when Vogemont’s tract came out. The slips of the “father” of the D–O–E canal thus deserve a little benevolence.  

Mapa Lothara Vogemonta uveřejněná v r. 1712. Vyznačena trasa průplavu od Přerova až k Odře a zařízení na zvedání člunů. V pravé části mapa vodních toků na Moravě. SOkA Přerov

Lothar Vogemont map published in 1712 show the route of the canal from Přerov to Oder  river and equipment for lifting boats. On the right side of the map is map of rivers on Moravia. State District Archive Přerov.


Other projects and partial achievements  

Throughout the 18th and in the first years of the 19th century, the vision of the navigable Morava and the canal to the Oder remained a task which many an engineer challenged with ever more sophisticated projects. They also show and increasing trace of foreign influence. In 1719, Colonel Norbert Wenzel von Linck of Uherské Hradiště fort submitted a proposal how to regulate the Morava for navigation. The map shows also the canal to the Oder, branching off the Bečva at Hustopeče. According to Linck’s project, a lock at Rohatec was built in 1722. It is the very first construction of its type in the Czech territory, as the other oldest locks (often mentioned in literature) on the Vltava in Županovice and Modřany were only built between 1729 and 1730. The Lock at Rohatec also proves that Vogemont’s ideas of making the flatland rivers navigable through the “horizontal” water surface had been abandoned a mere quarter of a century after issuing of his Latin tract.

Approximately at the same time the Olomouc councillor Jan Kryštof Dimbter and Salomon Beer Beckh published their project. Salomon Beer Beckh suggested to maintain the Morava navigability at his own expense, and to establish a towpath on its riverbanks for both people and horses. In exchange, Beckh was granted a privilege of salt shipping along the river all the way to the Napajedla state salt-house. As the example illustrates, making a river navigable meant mainly clearing the banks (shrubbing) to give the ropes enough space, or other towpath alternations in order to allow the barges to be towed upstream. The river stream itself took care of the opposite direction. Such practice was common on most larger “navigable“ rivers. In the following years sighting of the Morava and projects of its regulation for either navigation or flood-prevention purposes are connected with the names of Franciscus Josephus Wieland (1723), J. K. Altomante, Jan Křoupal (1741), and Collonel Brequin (1771).


The old engraving from the collection of Bad schandau Museum illustrates hard work of towing crews (“Bomätscher“) struggling up the Elbe stream. On the Elbe human force was used in barge towing till the beginning of 19th century, as shown in c. E. sprinck’s drawing of the river near Königstein close to the czech–saxon border.

Jan Rochus Dorfleuthner, a Hodonín wood merchant, deserves probably the highest credit for development of the Morava navigation. In 1780 he drew up plans on making the Morava navigable up to Olomouc. He also offered to finance the works and operate the navigation in exchange for certain privileges. Emperor Joseph II approved of Dorfleuthner’s proposal and in 1785 the merchant was granted a privilege to operate the river navigation. Like in the case of Salomon Bekh, it was in fact the popular PPP system (Public Private Partnership) of today. Dorfleuthner’s boats carried mainly wood, but reportedly also other substrates: cereals and other agricultural products, salt, craft products etc., and reached as far as to Veselí nad Moravou. During the time, when the company was active, the second Moravian lock was built at the dam in Hodonín. However, the navigation technology could hardly compare to present-day concepts. In good conditions, wooden barges, towed by horses upstream, could carry 30 – 40 tons in the lower section; even smaller vessels, carrying 10 tons, were used upstream from Hodonín. Barges delivered tobacco for a factory in Hodonín also.  

In the same year (1780), a company operating the Morava navigation was founded and a unified navigation regulations were issued. The idea of a canal to the Oder reappeared when the French engineer F. J. Maire designed a unified and systematic plan of canals connecting individual rivers to the Adriatic Sea (1785). The draft included also the Danube–Vltava and the Danube–Oder canals. Jan Alois from Hankenstein published a document on making the Morava navigable and negotiations of the Moravian (Versuch über die Schiffbarmachung des Flusses March un Handlung der Mährer). In its response engineer Stošek of the construction directorship designed a complete project of the Morava regulation for navigability. In 1804 the court councillor Wiebeking carried out his research on the Morava and designed a plan how to adjust the river for navigation and to reduce its flooding. In 1807 a private company for the Morava navigation was founded to site in Brno. They pondered the idea of connecting the river to the Oder as proposed in the project of the court councillor Wiebeking. The government in Vienna assigned the project to be evaluated by the court councillor engineer Joseph Shemerl, who then produced his own very sophisticated proposal in 1809. An important milestone of the waterway network development was reached in 1815 when the Congress of Vienna declared free navigation. It was the first step to legal regulations on the international rivers, i.e. rivers emptying to a sea. Although the time was obviously not short of projects, practically only a certain progress of the Morava navigation was registered, and its primitive standards could no way measure up to inland navigation on canals in Britain, France or Germany. It could hardly aspire to be gradually joining the modern transport system as its independent constituent. Construction of the canal to the Oder and Elbe, which could have become such an impulse and could have meant a more expansive approach to making the Morava navigable, unfortunately stopped at the phase of preliminary considerations. Thus, it was probably quite realistic, when in 1824 the Moravian representatives announced that navigability of the Morava was desirable only if a canal connection to the Oder was to be built.