Curonian Spit (Lithuanian: Kuršių nerija; Russian:
Ку́ршская коса́ (Kurshskaya kosa); German: Kurische
Nehrung, German pronunciation (help·info); Latvian: Kuršu
kāpas) is a 98 km long, thin, curved sand-dune spit that
Curonian Lagoon from the
Baltic Sea coast. Its southern
portion lies within Kaliningrad Oblast,
Russia and its northern within
southwestern Lithuania. It is a
World Heritage Site
World Heritage Site shared by
the two countries.
2 Geologic history
3 Human history
3.2 The Teutonic Knights
3.3 Kursieniki settlement
3.4 Artists' colony
3.5 20th century
5 Current state
6.1 Parnidis dune and sundial
7 Environmental concerns
8 See also
10 External links
Curonian Spit and Lagoon
Curonian Spit stretches from the
Sambian Peninsula on the south to
its northern tip next to a narrow strait, across which is the port
Klaipėda on the mainland of Lithuania. The northern
52 km long stretch of the
Curonian Spit peninsula belongs to
Lithuania, while the rest is part of the Kaliningrad Oblast, Russia.
The width of the spit varies from a minimum of 400 m in Russia
(near the village of Lesnoy) to a maximum of 3,800 m in Lithuania
(just north of Nida).
Curonian Spit was formed about 3rd millennium BC. A glacial
moraine served as its foundation; winds and sea currents later
contributed enough sand to raise and keep the formation above sea
The existence of this narrow shoal is inherently threatened by the
natural processes that govern shoreline features. It depends on a
dynamic balance between sand transport and deposition. If
(hypothetically) the source area to the south-west were cut off, say,
by a large port construction with a pier, the Spit would erode and
eventually disappear. It is thus a geologically speaking ephemeral
coast element. The most likely development, however, is that the
shallow bay inside the
Curonian Spit will eventually fill up with
sediment, thus creating new land.
According to Baltic mythology, the
Curonian Spit was formed by a
giantess, Neringa, who was playing on the seashore. This child also
appears in other myths (in some of which she is shown as a young
strong woman, similar to a female version of the Greek Heracles). From
ca. 800 to 1016, the Spit was the location of Kaup, a major pagan
trading centre which has not been excavated yet.
The Teutonic Knights
Teutonic Knights occupied the area in the 13th century, building
their castles at Memel (1252), Neuhausen (1283), and at Rossitten
(1372). The Spit may have been the home of the last living speaker of
a now-extinct Baltic language, Old Prussian.
Kursenieki populated area in 1649
Significant human impacts on the area began in the 16th century.
Deforestation of the spit due to overgrazing, timber harvesting, and
building of boats for the
Battle of Gross-Jägersdorf
Battle of Gross-Jägersdorf in 1757 led to
the dunes taking over the spit and burying entire villages. Alarmed by
these problems, the Prussian government sponsored large-scale
revegetation and reforestation efforts, which started in 1825. Other
sources credit George David Kuwert, the owner of a post station in
Nida in the late 19th century with beginning the spit’s
reforestation. Owing to these efforts, much of the
spit is now covered with forests. In the 19th century the Curonian
Spit was inhabited primarily by
Kursenieki with a significant German
minority in the south and a Lithuanian minority in the north. The
population of Curonians eventually dwindled due to assimilation and
other reasons; it is close to non-existent these days and even before
1945, when the spit had become totally ethnic German.
Thomas Mann's summer home
From the late 19th century, the dune landscape around
popular with landscape and animal painters from the Kunstakademie
Königsberg arts school. The local inn of Herman Blode was the nucleus
of the expressionist artists' colony (Künstlerkolonie Nidden). Lovis
Corinth stayed here in 1890, followed by artists such as Max
Pechstein, Alfred Lichtwark, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, and Alfred
Partikel. Painters from Königsberg such as Julius Freymuth and
Eduard Bischoff visited the area, as did poets like
Ernst Wiechert and
Carl Zuckmayer. Other guests included Ernst Kirchner, Ernst
Mollenhauer, Franz Domscheit, and Herrmann Wirth. The painters usually
took accommodations at Blode's hotel, and left some of their works
with him. Some also built their own residences in the vicinity.
Curonian Spit in Kaliningrad Oblast, Russia
Until the 20th century, most people in the area made their living by
fishing. From 1901 to 1946 the village of Rossitten, now Rybachy,
became the site of the pioneering Rossitten Bird Observatory, the
world's first, founded by German ornithologist Johannes Thienemann
there because of the Spit's importance as a bird migration corridor.
After World War I, Nidden, together with the northern half of the
Curonian Spit became part of the
Klaipėda Region according to the
Treaty of Versailles
Treaty of Versailles and was annexed by
Lithuania in 1923.
Officially renamed Nida, the village nevertheless remained a
German-majority settlement — the border with the remaining East
Prussian half of the Spit lay only a few kilometres to the south.
In 1929 Nobel Prize-winning writer
Thomas Mann visited Nida while on
holiday in nearby Rauschen and decided to have a summer house erected
on a hill above the Lagoon, mocked as
Uncle Tom's Cabin
Uncle Tom's Cabin (Onkel Toms
Hütte) by locals. He and his family spent the summers of 1930–32 in
the thatched cottage, parts of the epic novel Joseph and His Brothers
(Joseph und seine Brüder) were written here. Threatened by the Nazis,
Mann left Germany after Hitler's
Machtergreifung in 1933 and never
returned to Nida. After the
Klaipėda Region was again annexed by Nazi
Germany in 1939, his house was seized at the behest of Hermann Göring
and served as a recreation home for
The German population was expelled by force after
World War II
World War II by the
occupying Soviet forces, accompanied by widespread ethnic cleansing.
Like elsewhere in present-day Kaliningrad Oblast, the assimilation of
the territory and colonization by Russian settlers was completed by
changing the historic German toponyms to Russian ones throughout the
Russian-controlled part of the Spit.
After the breakup of the Soviet Union, tourism flourished; many
Germans, mostly the descendants of the inhabitants of the area, choose
Curonian Spit (especially Nida, as no visas are needed for Germans
in Lithuania) as their holiday destination.
Further information: Kursenieki
While today the Kursenieki, also known as Kuršininkai, are a nearly
extinct Baltic ethnic group living along the Curonian Spit, in 1649
Kuršininkai settlement spanned from Memel (Klaipėda) to Danzig
(Gdańsk). The Kuršininkai were eventually assimilated by the
Germans, except along the
Curonian Spit where some still live. The
Kuršininkai were considered
Latvians until after World War I, when
Latvia gained independence from the Russian Empire, a consideration
based on linguistic arguments. This was the rationale for Latvian
claims over the Curonian Spit, Memel and other territories of East
Prussia, which would be later dropped.
Curonian pennant, Nida
Krikstas burial marker
Old cemetery in Nida
Small inn and cafe in Nida
Fish restaurant in Nida
Curonian Spit sand dunes in Nida, Lithuania
Curonian Spit is home to the highest moving (drifting) sand dunes
in Europe. Their average height is 35 meters, but some attain a height
of 60 meters. Several ecological communities are present on and near
the Spit, from its outer beaches to dune ridges, wetlands, meadows,
and forests. Its location on the
East Atlantic Flyway means it is
frequently visited by migratory waterfowl. Between 10 and 20 million
birds fly over the feature during spring and fall migrations, and many
pause to rest or breed there.
Both the Russian and Lithuanian parts of the spit are national parks.
The settlements of the
Curonian Spit (from north to south) are:
The first six are on the Lithuanian side, while the last three are on
the Russian side. The Russian side of the
Curonian Spit belongs to
Zelenogradsky District of the Kaliningrad Oblast, while the Lithuanian
side is partitioned among
Klaipėda city municipality and Neringa
There is a single road that traverses the whole length of the Curonian
Spit. In the Russian side it goes to Zelenogradsk, while on the
Lithuanian side it goes to Smiltynė. The spit is not connected to
mainland Lithuania. Car ferries provide a transportation link between
Smiltynė, located on the spit, and the port town of Klaipėda.
Since 2000, the
Curonian Spit has been on UNESCO's World Heritage List
under cultural criteria "V" (an outstanding example of a traditional
human settlement, land-use, or sea-use which is representative of a
culture [...], or human interaction with the environment especially
when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible
Currently there is a demand to tear down the homes on the Curonian
Spit. These homes are owned by people who were given permits to build
by corrupt local government officials. The demand to tear the homes
down is based on the fact that the Spit is a UN World Heritage Site
and the only structures that were to be allowed there were fishing
The Dancing Forest
The largest town on the spit is Nida in Lithuania, a popular holiday
resort, mostly frequented by Lithuanian and German tourists. The
northern shoreline of
Curonian Spit is the site of beaches for
Parnidis dune and sundial
Parnidis sand dune drifted by harsh winds is rising up to 52 meters
above sea level. The interpretation of the name of Parnidis dune –
local residents believe that the name comes from the phrase meaning
“passed across Nida”, because this wind-blown dune has several
times passed through the village of Nida. Scientists estimated that
each person climbing or descending on the steep dune slopes moves
several tons of sand, so hikers are only allowed to climb in
There is a granite sundial, built on Parnidis dune accurately showing
the time. The sundial is a 13.8 m high stone pillar weighing 36 tons.
Right next to it there are small steps covered with granite slabs,
carved with hour and half-an-hour notches, as well as one notch for
each month, and additional four notches for solstices and equinoxes.
From the astronomical point of view Parnidis
Dune is an ideal and
unique place for the sundial in Lithuania.
Curonian Spit is known for its fine sandy beaches (Nida,
There are environmental concerns related to the Curonian Spit, which
is often promoted as a refuge of clean nature.
Due to the importance of tourism and fishing for the regional economy,
pollution of sea and coastlines may have disastrous effects for the
area as the unique nature and the economy would be damaged.
Sand dunes near Nida, Lithuania
The construction of an offshore drilling facility (the Kravtsovskoye
(D-6) oilfield) in the territorial waters of Russia, 22.5 km from
the coastline of the
Curonian Spit raised concerns over possible oil
spills. Between 2002 and 2005 local environmentalists in Kaliningrad
Oblast and Lithuania protested against Lukoil's plans to exploit
the oilfield, objecting to the possible great damage to the
environment and tourism (a vital source of income in the area) in case
of oil leakage. These concerns did not engender support in the
government of Russia. They were, however, supported by the government
of Lithuania,. The oilfield is about 4 km from the boundary of
Lithuanian territorial waters; the prevailing northward currents means
that the Lithuanian coastlines would receive much potential damage in
case of leakage. Opposition to the operation of D-6 met little
international support, and the oil platform was opened in 2004. During
the first decade of the 21st century the two states agreed to a joint
environmental impact assessment of the D-6 project, including plans
for oil spill mitigation. The assessment and mitigation project
had not been completed as of 2010.
Another concern is that increased tourism destroys the very nature
that attracts it. For this reason, measures have been taken, such as
banning tourists from hiking in certain areas of the spit.
Natural hazards are more dangerous in the
Curonian Spit than elsewhere
Lithuania or the Kaliningrad Oblast. For example, storms tend to be
stronger there. Due to the importance of trees in preventing soil
erosion, forest fires that happen in summer are more dangerous to the
Kuršių Nerija National Park
Curonian Spit National Park (Russia)
^ a b c "The Development of the
Baltic Sea and the Curonian Lagoon".
Kuršių Nerija National Park. Retrieved 2010-06-15.
^ "Curonian Spit". UNESCO. Retrieved 2010-06-15.
^ The Kaliningrad question. Rowman & Littlefield. 2002.
p. 17. ISBN 978-0-7425-1705-9.
^ a b Weise, p. 159
^ a b "Curonian Spit" (PDF). UNESCO. Archived from the original (PDF)
on 2011-07-22. Retrieved 2010-06-15.
^ "Lithuania:The Battle for the Curonian Spit". Retrieved
Dune with Sun Clock – Calendar". Lithuania.travel.
^  Archived October 9, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
^  Archived January 11, 2006, at the Wayback Machine.
^ a b "32COM 7B.98 –
Curonian Spit (
Lithuania / Russian Federation)
UNESCO World Heritage Committee. Retrieved 2010-06-15.
Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Curonian Spit.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Curonian Spit.
World Heritage Site
World Heritage Site Curonian Spit
Kursiu Nerija National Park (in Lithuania)
National Park Kurshskaya Kosa (in Russia)
Rybachy Biological Station, Russian Academy of Sciences
Curonian Spit at Natural Heritage Protection Fund
World Heritage Sites in Lithuania
Curonian Spit (with Russia)
Kernavė Archaeological Site (Cultural Reserve of Kernavė)
Struve Geodetic Arc
Struve Geodetic Arc (with nine other countries)
Vilnius Historic Centre
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1 Shared with Lithuania
2 Shared with nine other countries