The Congo is one of the world’s great rivers.
It flows for 4,700km (2,920 miles) from the heart of Africa to the Atlantic Ocean through the second largest rainforest on the planet.
The Congo River drains the Democratic Republic of the Congo – a beautiful, resource-rich, but deeply troubled country the size of Western Europe.
Stunted by centuries of exploitation, what was once one of Africa’s richest countries is today one of its poorest.
But along the mighty river you can find precious resources and amazing wildlife found nowhere else on Earth.
Over millennia the outpouring of the Congo River has carved a deep trench in the sea floor up to a thousand metres deep – a submarine canyon which heads hundreds of kilometres out into the Atlantic Ocean.
If tamed, the Congo would have the potential to generate twice as much hydroelectric power as the world’s largest dam, the Three Gorges Dam in China, and to supply electricity across Africa.
The European explorers
The Portuguese were the first Europeans to discover the river in 1482 when they saw muddy water flowing far out to sea and followed it to shore.
They encountered the Kingdom of Kongo – a well-organised society open to outsiders and trading in slaves and ivory.
But just 100km (62 miles) upstream, a long stretch of fierce rapids makes the Congo impassable by boat, and it was centuries before the famous explorer Henry Morton Stanley became the first European to travel the length of the river.
From the east coast of Africa it took him 999 days to reach the Atlantic on the west coast – and his arrival in the port of Boma in 1877 opened up the interior of Congo and changed it forever.
At a time of European expansion, King Leopold II of Belgium made it his own personal colony and employed Stanley to exploit its riches and build a railway around the rapids.
Along the banks of the Congo River, some of the worst to suffer under King Leopold’s rule were the pygmy communities who were forced to collect rubber from wild forest vines.
The pygmies still hunt in the jungle for plants and animals