RIESENGEBIRGE (Bohemian Krkonose), or Giant Mountains, a lofty and rugged group on the boundary of Silesia and Bohemia, between the upper courses of the Elbe and the Oder. They form the highest portion of the Sudetic system which separates south-east Prussia from the Austrian empire, and finds its natural continuation towards the N.W. in the Erzgebirge, the Thuringian Forest and the Harz Mountains. Adjoining the Isergebirge and the Lausitzergebirge on the W., and the Eulengebirge and the Adlergebirge on the E. and S.E., the Riesengebirge proper run S.E. and N.W. between the sources of the Zacken and the Bober, for a distance of 23 m., with a breadth of 14 m. They cover an area of about 425 sq. m., three-fourths of which is in Austrian, and the remainder in Prussian territory. The boundary line follows the crest of the principal chain or ridge (Riesenkamm), which stretches along the northern side of the group, with an average height of over 4000 ft. The principal peaks are the Reifträger (4430 ft.), the Hohe Rad (4968 ft.), the Great Sturmhaube (4862 ft.), the Little Sturmhaube (4646 ft.), and, near the east extremity, the Schneekoppe or Riesenkoppe (5266 ft.), the loftiest mountain in northern or central Germany. Roughly parallel to this northern ridge, and separated from it by a long narrow valley known as the Siebengründe, there extends on the S. a second and lower chain, of broad massive “saddles,” with comparatively few peaks. The chief heights here are Kesselkoppe (4708 ft.), the Krkonose (4849 ft.), the Ziegenrücken and the Brunnenberg (5072 ft.). From both ridges spurs of greater or less length are sent off at various angles, whence a magnificent view is obtained from Breslau to Prague; the lowlands of Silesia, watered by the Oder, and those of Bohemia, intersected by the Elbe and the Moldau, appearing to lie mapped in relief. The summit is crowned by a chapel dedicated to St Lawrence, which once also served as a traveller's shelter. Since 1850 the chapel has been restored to its religious use, and a hotel for the accommodation of tourists is built close by. A remarkable group of isolated columnar rocks are those known as the Adersbacher Felsen in a valley on the Bohemian side of the Riesengebirge, 9 m. W.N.W. of Braunau.
On its northern side this mountain group rises ruggedly and precipitously from the Hirschberg valley; but on its southern side its slope towards Bohemia is very much more gradual. The scenery is in general bold and wild. The Bohemian ridge is cleft about the middle by a deep gorge through which pour the headwaters of the river Elbe, which finds its source in the Siebengründe. The Iser, Bober, Aupa, Zacken, Queiss, and a great number of smaller streams also rise among these mountains or on their skirts; and small lakes and tarns are not unfrequent in the valleys. The Great and Little Schneegruben — two deep rocky gorge-like valleys in which snow remains all the year round — lie to the north of the Hohe Rad.
Nearly the whole of the Riesenkamm and the western portion of the southern chain are granite; the eastern extremity of the main ridge and several mountains to the south-east are formed of a species of gneiss; and the greater part of the Bohemian chain, especially its summits, consists of mica-slate. Blocks of these minerals lie scattered on the sides and ridges of the mountains and in the beds of the streams; and extensive turf moors occupy many of the mountain slopes and valleys. The lower parts of the Riesengebirge are clad with forests of oak, beech, pine and fir; above 1600 ft. only the last two kinds of trees are found, and beyond about 3950 ft. only the dwarf pine (Pinus Pumilio). Various alpine plants are found on the Riesengebirge, some of them having been artificially introduced on the Schneekoppe. Wheat is grown at an elevation of 1800 ft. above the sea-level, and oats as high as 2700 ft. The inhabitants of this mountain region, who are tolerably numerous, especially on the Bohemian side, live for the most part, not in villages, but in scattered huts called “Bauden.” They support themselves by the rearing of cattle, tillage, glass-making and linen-weaving. Mining is carried on only to a small extent for arsenic, although there are traces of former more extensive workings for other metals.
The Riesengebirge has of late years been made easily accessible by railway, several branches from the main lines, both on the Silesian and Bohemian side, penetrating the valleys, and thus many spots in the Riesengebirge are a good deal frequented in the summer. The Schneekoppe and other summits are annually visited by a considerable number of travellers, notably the spas of Warmbrunn (near Hirschberg) and Flinsberg on the Gneis, and Görbersdorf, known as a climate health resort for consumptives. The Riesengebirge is the legendary home of Number Nip (Rübezahl), a half-mischievous, half-friendly goblin of German folklore, and various localities in the group are more or less directly associated with his name.
See Beemann's Oratio de monte Giganteo (Frankfort a. O. 1679); Daniel, Deutschland, vol. i. pp. 277-78; and Gebauer, Länder- und Völkerkunde, vol. i.