Grand History of the Curonian Spit

You might have never heard of the Curonian Spit before visiting or traveling the Baltic Sea. Viewed from above, this curious, long and thin sand dune peninsula is a true marvel. It measures roughly 98 kilometers in length and it separates the Curonian Lagoon from the Baltic Sea. Interestingly, because the Spit starts at the Sambian Peninsula - which is in Russia’s Kaliningrad Oblast - and ends at the city of Klaipeda in Lithuania, the spit is both a part of Lithuania and Russia. The Russian portion of the spit measures some 46 kilometers in length. The Curonian Spit is 400 meters at its narrowest point and 3 800 meters at its widest point.

The Curonian Spit has a long and interesting history. It first appears in Baltic mythology where it is said that a strong girl called Neringa formed it when playing on the sea shore. It is said to date back about 5000 years ago and early evidence suggests that it was once the location of a major pagan trading center known as Kaup. By the 13th century, it was inhabited by Teutonic Knights who chose to build castles at Memel, Neuhausen and Rossitten. Today these places are small towns. When the spit was first inhabited, it was filled with all sorts of vegetation and animals. However, by the 16th century, immense deforestation and overgrazing resulted in the sudden release and shifting of the dunes. By the 18the century, entire villages were being buried and the Prussian government was forced to take action. Their plan of action was a large-scale reforestation and re-vegetation project which commenced in 1825 and has been largely successful.

The Curonian Spit is named after the Curonians, a German minority who were once the primary inhabitants of the spit. Today they are virtually non-existent and the spit is mainly colonized by German’s who either live here or who choose to holiday at the spit. Today the Curonian Spit is known as having some of the highest (sometimes as high as 60 m) drifting sand dunes in Europe. The northern shoreline is a popular holiday area as the beaches are frequented by tourists from surrounding areas. Much of the rest of the spit has been made into a series of national parks. There are also a number of small settlements and towns on the spit. The entire spit can be navigated from a single road and you can catch a car ferry to the Lithuanian mainland if you so desire. Despite it’s ‘squeaky clean’ image, there are several environmental concerns which affect the Curonian Spit. For example, the sea and coastline are often polluted by tourists and fishermen and over-fishing is a concern. The construction of the D6 oil platform is situated only a few kilometers from the spit and any oil spills would certainly negatively affect the area. If you decide to visit the Curonian Spit in Russia, take care to pay careful attention to the environment to ensure that your visit makes as little impact as possible.


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