Chapter II : Physical Geography
Part 3 : Orography.

from : J. Roland and E. Duchesne, Cours Complet de Geographie : Le Congo Belge, Namur 1914, pp.14-15


As it is the case with Africa in general, the surface of the Congo consists of a plateau, a basin depressed in it's central part, separated by a mountainous rim (the Crystal Mountains) from a narrow coastal band, and towards the interior touching a great crevice (Graben) with it's lakes and with very high lateral chains.
Regarding the altitude, 4 major regions are to be distinguished : (a) from the ocean to the foot of the Crystal Mountains, the Atlantic coastal plain, from 0 to 500 m altitude; (b) the zone of the Crystal Mountains and the peripheric zone of the central depression, of a height of 500 to 1,000 m; (c) the great central depression, at 300 to 500 m above the level of the sea; (d) the terraces of the east and southeast, with 1,000 to 2,000 m height.
A. - The ATLANTIC COASTAL PLAIN ist the region the least extended. It does not reach further than 300 km into the hinterland and comprises, within the Belgian Congo, the Mayumbe Region. From the river and from the ocean, the level rises towards the interior and so constitutes a first terrace.
B. - The CRYSTAL MOUNTAINS ZONE, a chain of mountains which runs parallel to the west coast of Africa, from Kamerun to Angola, has a length of 550 km, between Boma and Tshumbiri, located at a mid-distance between Kwamouth and Bolobo. From 500 m, certain points reach 1,000 m, yet the average altitude does not surpass 700 to 800 m. The railway from Matadi to Leopoldville crosses the chain at a maximal height of 741 m., at Thysville. This zone of 500 to 1,000 m extends around the equatorial basin and enlages into occasional terraces, regions of the savannah and the bush.
C. - The CENTRAL DEPRESSION, the altitude of which does not exceed 300 to 500 m (exactly 340 m at lakes Tumba and Leopold II.) extends to both sides of the equator, over 1,000 km in latitude and the same in longitude. One can rather approximately delimit it as such : in the south, by a line from the middle Kwango to Lusambo and Kindu; in the west, by the line Kwango-Likouala (the river marking the French-German border); in the north, by a line paralleling the Ubangi and the Uele to the south; to the east by a line joining the middle Uele with Kindu. This region, once occupied by the cover of interior waters which we have mentioned before, today is a single plain, wonderfully undulated, slightly inclined toward the west. It is dominated by peripheric terraces, thus the course of the descending waters and the formation of rapids and falls. It is entirely covered by equatorial forest.
D. - The INTERIOR REGIONS of the east and the southeast present themselves in the shape of high stepped terraces, of 1,000 to 2,000 m altitude and beyond. Descending from one terrace to another, the upper branches and affluents of the Congo form a new series of rapids and cataracts, after having profoundly dug their beds through hills separating them.
In the southeast, the watershed Congo-Zambezi, which forms the Congolese border, is a well-marked region, of an average altitude of 1,500 m; it descends towards the north in hardly sensible undulations, in leads into the immense Lunda Plateau, which is covered by savannah and brush, and which gives birth to a number of tributaries of the Kasai and Upper Congo.
The Katanga Terrace has been dug, as we described before, by the three valleys of the Luapula, the Lufira and the Lubudi-Lualaba, and is characterized by three mountain chains, the Hakannson Mountains, to the west of the Lubudi-Lualaba, the Mitumba Mountains, between that branch and the Lufira, the Kundelungu Mountains, between Lufira and Luapula.
The Mitumba Chain forms a powerful relief, which, under various names, extends into northeastern direction till the banks of the Tanganyika, and it's summits exceed 2,000 m; they face towards the north and form, along the great crevice, the western chain of the Graben. At the mid-distance between the northern and southern end of the Tanganyika, they have at one spot a lowest altitude of 1,000 m, at a fracture through which (the Mitwanzi Gorge) lake water flows off through a natural channel, the Lukuga.
Between the Lakes Kivu and Albert-Edward rise, across the Graben, the vulcanic Virunga Mountains, separating the two great hydrographic basins, those of the Nile and of the Congo. They feature eight volcanic cones, one of which does not reach beyond 3,000 m., while 4 rise beyond 4,000 m. Two of them are permanently active.
The mountain fringe of the great fracture continues under the name of Malamba Mountains to the west of Lake Albert-Edward, the Semliki and of Lake Edward; under the name Ruwenzori on the right bank of the Semliki, the other rim of the Graben. The Ruwenzori Mountains, the highest elevation of the region, are formed by six main massives, one of which contains the highest point, the Pic Marguerite at 5,120 m.; it is the highest African mountain after the Kilimanjaro (6,010 m) and Mount Kenia (5,600 m). The chain contains numerous glaciers, and beyond 3,400 m is the region of permanent snow.
Finally, in the north, the watershed between Congo and Nile affects, in form of an apex, access to the region towards Lake Albert, transforming into "a well-defined plain without ridge, where the affluents of both rivers find their sources" (Goffart and Morissens).

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Last revised on October 8th 2001

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