The Saale, also known as the Saxon Saale (Sächsische Saale) and Thuringian Saale (Thüringische Saale), is a river in Germany and a left-bank tributary of the Elbe. It is not to be confused with the smaller Franconian Saale, a right-bank tributary of the Main, or the Saale (Leine), a tributary of the Leine.
The Saale originates on the Waldstein, between Bayreuth and Hof in Upper Franconia (Bavaria), springing out of the Fichtelgebirge at an altitude of 728 m. It pursues a winding course in a northern direction, and after passing the manufacturing town of Hof, enters Thuringia. It flows amid well-wooded low mountains (The Thüringer Wald) until it reaches the pleasant valley of Saalfeld. After leaving Saalfeld the Saale reaches Rudolstadt. Here it receives the waters of the Schwarza, in whose valley lies the castle of Schwarzburg, the ancestral seat of the princes of the formerly ruling house of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt.
From Saalfeld the Saale enters the limestone hill region north of the Thuringian Forest, and sweeps beneath the barren, conical hills enclosing the university town of Jena. It enters Saxony-Anhalt and passes the spa of Bad Kösen, washes numerous vine-clad hills and, after receiving at Naumburg the deep and navigable Unstrut, flows past Weißenfels, Merseburg, Halle, Bernburg and Calbe, and joins the Elbe just above Barby, after traversing a distance of . (It has been shortened by a bypass from its natural length of .)
It is navigable from Naumburg with the help of sluices, and is connected with the Weiße Elster near Leipzig by a canal. The soil of the lower part of its valley is of exceptional fertility, and produces, amongst other crops, large supplies of sugar beet. Among its tributaries are the Weiße Elster, Regnitz and Orla on the right bank, and the Ilm, Unstrut, Salza, Wipper and Bode on the left. Its upper course is rapid. Its valley, down to Merseburg, contains many castles which crown the enclosing heights.