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The Rhône (French: Rhône, IPA: [ʁon]; German: Rhone; Walliser German: Rotten; Italian: Rodano; Arpitan: Rôno; Occitan: Ròse) is one of the major rivers of Europe, rising in Switzerland and running from there through southeastern France. At Arles, near its mouth on the Mediterranean Sea, the river divides into two branches, known as the Great Rhône (French: Grand Rhône) and theLittle Rhône (Petit Rhône). The resulting delta constitutes the Camargue region.
The Greco-Roman as well as the reconstructed Gaulish name is masculine, as is French le Rhône. This form survives in the Italian namesake, Rodano. German has adopted the French name but given it the feminine gender, die Rhone. The original German adoption of the Latin name was also masculine, der Rotten; it survives only in the Upper Valais (dialectal Rottu).
In French, the adjective derived from the river is rhodanien, as in le sillon rhodanien (literally “the furrow of the Rhône”), which is the name of the long, straight Saône and Rhône river valleys, a deep cleft running due south to the Mediterranean and separating theAlps from the Massif Central.
Before railroads and highways were developed, the Rhône was an important inland trade and transportation route, connecting the cities of Arles, Avignon, Valence, Vienne and Lyon to the Mediterranean ports of Fos, Marseille and Sète. Travelling down the Rhône by barge would take three weeks. By motorized vessel, the trip now takes only three days. The Rhône is classified as a class V waterway from the mouth of the Saône to the sea. The Saône, which is also canalized, connects the Rhône ports to the cities of Villefranche-sur-Saône, Mâcon and Chalon-sur-Saône. Smaller vessels (up to CEMT class I) can travel further northwest, north and northeast via the Centre-Loire-Briare and Loing Canals to the Seine, via the Canal de la Marne à la Saône (recently often called the “Canal entre Champagne et Bourgogne”) to the Marne, via the Canal des Vosges (formerly called the “Canal de l’Est – Branche Sud”) to the Moselle and via the Canal du Rhône au Rhin to the Rhine.
The Rhône is infamous for its strong current when the river carries large quantities of water: current speeds up to 10 kilometres per hour (6 mph) are sometimes reached, particularly in the stretch below the last lock at Valabrègues and in some of the diversion canals. The ten river locks are operated daily from 05:00 a.m. until 09:00 p.m. Night operation can be requested and is usually granted.
Down as far as Brig, the Rhône is a torrent; it then becomes a great mountain river running southwest through a glacier valley. Between Brig and Martigny, it collects waters mostly from the valleys of the Pennine Alps to the south, whose rivers originate from the large glaciers of the massifs of Monte Rosa, Dom, and Grand Combin.
After Martigny, the river turns northwest towards Lake Geneva (French Lac Léman or Lac de Genève) and separates the Chablais Alps from the Bernese Alps. With a mean discharge of 165 m³/s it enters Lake Geneva near the Swiss town of Bouveret and exits it at the city of Geneva before entering France. The average discharge from Lake Geneva is 251 m3/s (8,900 cu ft/s). After a course of 290 kilometers the Rhône leaves Switzerland.
At Lyon, which is the biggest city along its course, the Rhône meets its biggest tributary. The Saône carries 400 m³/s and the Rhône itself 600 m³/s. From here the Rhône follows the southbound direction of the Saône. Along the Rhône Valley, it is joined on the right (western) bank by the rivers Eyrieux, Ardèche, Cèze, andGardon coming from the Cévennes mountains; and on the left bank by the rivers Isère (350 m³/s), Drôme, Ouvèze, and Durance (188 m³/s) from the Alps.
At Arles, the Rhône divides into two major arms forming the Camargue delta, both branches flowing into the Balearic Sea, part of the Mediterranean Sea, the delta being termed the Rhône Fan. The larger arm is called the “Grand Rhône”, the smaller the “Petit Rhône”. The average annual discharge at Arles is 1,710 m3/s (60,000 cu ft/s).