Gail (river)

Last updated
Gail bei Dellach.JPG
Gail River near Dellach
Country Austria
Physical characteristics
  location Obertilliach, East Tyrol
Drava River near Villach
46°36′23″N13°53′14″E / 46.60639°N 13.88722°E / 46.60639; 13.88722 Coordinates: 46°36′23″N13°53′14″E / 46.60639°N 13.88722°E / 46.60639; 13.88722
Length121.9 km (75.7 mi) [1]
Basin size1,413.9 km2 (545.9 sq mi) [2]
  average45.08 m3 (1,592 cu ft)
Basin features
Progression DravaDanubeBlack Sea

Gail (Slovene : Zilja, Italian : Zeglia) is the name of a river in southern Austria, the largest right tributary of the Drava.



The name Gail developed from Old High German Gîla, in turn from the form *Gīla (which was also the source of the Slovene name Zilja). It is likely that the name is of substrate origin, predating the Roman presence in the area. The name is believed to derive from the pre-Romance word *gai̯li̯a (from the Indo-European root *gʰoi̯lo-), meaning 'foaming (water), powerful'. [3] The river is documented as Gila in a 1090 deed. The Slovene name Zilja is also commonly cited because the lower Gail Valley is a traditional settlement area of the Carinthian Slovenes and a language region of the distinct Gail Valley dialect.


The river source is located east of the Kartitsch Saddle and the Puster Valley in the Tyrolean municipality of Obertilliach. It flows from west to east through the Southern Limestone Alps, between the Gailtal Alps in the north and the Carnic Alps in the south. The river reaches the state of Carinthia in Lesachtal and from Kötschach-Mauthen runs down the broader Gail Valley (German : Gailtal) with its steep slopes, parallel to the borders with Italy and Slovenia. Beyond its confluence with the Slizza (Gailitz) tributary in Arnoldstein, the Gail joins the Drava River beneath the western Karawanks mountain range near the village of Maria Gail, part of the city of Villach.

Dobratsch crag above the Gail Valley Dobratsch - Rote Wand.JPG
Dobratsch crag above the Gail Valley

Following the 1348 Friuli earthquake, the river's course near Villach was buried by a major landslide, causing extensive flooding. The rockslide region (Schütt) along a length of 10 km (6.2 mi) is still discernible on the steep slopes of Mt. Dobratsch north of Arnoldstein.

While the upper river course is largely preserved in its natural condition, a habitat for shorebirds like the common sandpiper, the white-throated dipper and the grey wagtail, large parts of the lower Gail have been gradually regulated since the 1870s. In recent times, some sections have been renaturated. Today the trout zone reaches up to Hermagor with 17 species, among them common barbel, the common nase, and the rare souffia.


River course near Sankt Stefan Gail bei Vorderberg, Blick gegen Westen.JPG
River course near Sankt Stefan
Lower Gail (with Sud Autobahn) near Villach P1070338.JPG
Lower Gail (with Süd Autobahn) near Villach


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  1. TIRIS Geographical information system of Tyrol
  2. Flächenverzeichnis der österreichischen Flussgebiete: Draugebiet.
  3. Snoj, Marko (2009). Etimološki slovar slovenskih zemljepisnih imen. Ljubljana: Modrijan. p. 481.