National Park; Kuršių Nerija

National Park; Kuršių Nerija

1. Introduction

Kuršių nerija, the Curonian Spit, is a narrow strip of sand stretching 97 kilometres along the Baltic Sea in western Lithuania. According to the legend, the spit was formed a long time ago by Neringa, a girl giant who poured the sandy peninsula into the Baltic Sea to protect the peaceful bay from the stormy sea and create an embankment for fishermen to live. Thus, today the eastern shores of the Curonian Spit are washed by the Curonian Lagoon, while the Baltic Sea washes the western ones.

In 2000, the Curonian Spit cultural landscape was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Human habitation on this elongated sand dune peninsula dates back to prehistoric times. Throughout this period it has been threatened by the natural forces of wind and waves. Its survival to the present days has been made possible only as a result of ceaseless human efforts to combat the erosion of the Spit, dramatically illustrated by continuing stabilization and reforestation projects.

The area of the park is 26 464 hectares: 9 764 ha are covered by land, and 16700 ha by water.

The Curonian Spit is part of “Natura 2000”, a network of protected territories in Europe, connecting its most valuable natural habitats. It is also belongs to HELCOM, which seeks to protect the marine environment of the Baltic Sea through intergovernmental cooperation.

1.1. Natural values

The dunes are an exclusive element of the Curonian Spit landscape. Here you can explore all stages of dune formation. You will find embryonic shifting dunes, humid dune slacks, decalcified fixed dunes, wooded dunes, white and grey dunes, which are famous for their exceptional beauty.

Eleven types of protected habitats of European importance occur in the Curonian Spit. The different habitats are home to rare species of insects, birds, and plants specific and typical for the place. Some of them are endangered and included in the Red Book of Lithuania. There are 37 species of mammals living in Curonian Spit. Here, you meet fox and hare, boar and beaver, roe deer, elk, and many other mammal species.

Every year millions of birds fly through the area as the migration route from the Baltic Sea to the White Sea runs through the Curonian Spit. The coastlines along the Curonian Spit Lagoon and Baltic Sea are important for migratory and wintering water birds. In addition, there are large concentrations of migrating passerines and birds of prey, and the Curonian Spit is famous for the largest breeding colony of Great Cormorants in Lithuania. This is a true paradise for bird watchers!

1.2. Culture and traditions

The rich cultural heritage of the Curonian Spit includes fishing settlements that are considered valuable both from an ethno-cultural, historical and aesthetic point of view. There are architectural works of unique scale and archeological sites, mostly villages buried under the sand.

The settlements of the Curonian spit until the 19th century were typical fishing villages – monuments of special significance to the kursiai community way of living and ethnographic traditions which are not maintained anymore. The earliest fishing settlements were buried in the sand when the forest cover was removed. Those that have survived since the beginning of the 19th century are all to be found along the coast of the Curonian Lagoon. There is a specific structure of fishermen homesteads with traditional wooden dwellings, coloured dark brown and blue and decorated with wooden carvings on the gables.

Of special significance are the traditional grave markers known as krikstai. These are timber planks decorated with flowers, hearts and even animal motifs such as birds’ silhouettes.

1.3. Trading

Fishery has been prevailing among the activities of Curonian Spit inhabitants for a long time. In the 16th century it became especially relevant when farming areas had been critically decreased by drifting sands. Such specific conditions formed a unique lifestyle. There was a tradition of crow hunting. Amber gathering turned to be an additional income for the locals, later – work at Juodkrantė amber mine. In the mid-19th century, the Curonian Spit residents got involved in resort business services which eventually became the main source of income for them. Forestry was assumed as especially relevant for survival of settlements in the early 19th century.

1.4. Religion

The Curonian Spit residents were not highly religiously devoted in the 16th–18th centuries. This is related to the fact that the places of worship were situated in few settlements only, and clergy used to visit the existing chapels or churches rather rarely. In 1742, a pastor of Karvaičiai village claimed about poor attendance not only from further villages but also from the same one, emphasizing that his work was hindered by underdevelopment and superstition of village people. However, in the middle of the 19th century, travelers used to mention the piety as an integral feature of the Curonians (Kuršininkai) character – not to attend a church was truly unthinkable. High religiosity of the Curonian Spit inhabitants was also noticed by Lithuanians who started visiting these places at the beginning of the 20th century: “very devout and superstitious.”

After sand burial of Karvaičiai village in the 18th century. Juodkrantė became a parish center where a wooden church was built in 1795. Juodkrantė becomes a center of spiritual life of the Northern Curonian Spit. The mass in Juodkrantė has been attended by the residents of Nida and Nagliai. A modest, barn-style church building burnt in 1878. A new church of Neo-Gothic style designed by famous architect A. Studer was built in Juodkrantė in 1885. The wife of Kaiser of Germany Augusta Victoria presented to the church a crucifix and two impressive candlesticks, the owner of amber mines M. Becker – brilliant pipe organ. After the Second World War the church was transformed into a museum of miniatures. In 1989 it was returned to the churchgoers. Nowadays Evangelic Lutheran and Catholic service takes place here.

A chapel in Nida already existed in 1566, which was sand-buried a century later. The very first place of worship was established in a house owned by Kuwert in 1835. An independent parish of Nida was established in 1854. As the old church building decayed, a Lutheran pastor Gustav Echternach initiated a new church construction which was sanctified on 10 October 1888. Wooden ceiling, stained glass windows and Ernst Mollenhauer’s painting Jesus stretching his hand to apostle Peter who is afraid of sinking brought the church a cosy atmosphere. The church was provided with perfect pipe organ designed by Gebauer company from Königsberg, three candelabra – from the Kaiser’s wife Victoria. Accurate replicas of the originals, which survived in postwar, are currently available in the church. Worship services in the church were held until 1962. In 1969-1988, Historical Museum of Neringa was functioning in it. The church was returned to the believers in 1988. At present time it belongs to the Evangelic Lutheran community.

2. Nature

2.1. Climate

Kursiu Nerija has a seaside climate, which is greatly influenced by the Baltic Sea.

The annual amount of radiation in the spit is 90 kcal/cm².

The sun shines at an average of 1982 hours per year, which is 39% of the possible sun-shining period. NPKN has the largest number of sunny days in Lithuania.

West and south winds are prevailing in the spit. The average speed of the wind is 5, 5 m/s during the whole year. Very strong, storm winds appears every year and they blow about 20 average days a year in total.

The warming effect of the sea for Kursiu Nerija is stronger (up to 3° C) than in the eastern part of Lithuania. Because of the influence of the sea, autumn and winter are warmer than spring – the temperature differs from the eastern regions by 3 -3.5°.

The air is very humid in the Curonian Spit in winter – up to 82% and 76% in spring. Fog is very common here – 66 misty days a year.

The precipitation in Kursiu Nerija amounts to 643 mm per year. There are about 170-180 rainy or snowy days in the spit per year. 75% of the annual amount of precipitation falls during a warm season. The snow in Kursiu Nerija appears at the end of November; constant snow covering is formed at the end of December or at the beginning of January, which is 10 or 15 days later than in other regions of Lithuania.

2.2. Flora

An estimated 900 plant species grow in the Kursiu Nerija National Park, with 31 of them are on the Red List of Lithuania.

70% of the land in the National Park is covered by forest (6852 ha). More than a half of the stands were planted by humans.

2.3. Grass vegetation

2922 ha in the park have no forest cover. These are mostly sand areas, which are 25% of the total park area.

The coastal plains, both near the lagoon and the seashore, are characterised as a separate geographical zone with specific climate conditions.

The distinction of flora in the Curonian Spit is defined by strong winds, drifting sand, soils that heat up quickly but are dry and infertile, salty water and sudden and frequent weather changes. All these factors together make the coastal plains similar to the steppe conditions in the southeastern part of Europe.

2.4. Birds

Birds never leave the Kursiu Nerija National Park. Late in the autumn, when it gets quiet in the continent and lakes become empty, more than 300 bird species can be seen in the spit.

The geography of the Curonian Spit is well suited for scientists studying bird migration routes. The White Sea-the Baltic Sea migration “highway” goes along the spit and millions of birds passes it. For this reason the bird-ringing station was set up in Juodkrante. Every autumn scientists hang out nets for bird catching in the Nagliai Nature Reserve. Each season about 10 to 11 thousand birds are ringed there.

2.5. Fishes

About 50 fish species live in the Curonian Lagoon including the most common such as: roach (Rutilus rutilus), perch (Perca fluviatilis), redeye (Scardinius erythrophalmus), white bream (Blicca bjoerkna) and common bream (Abramis brama). Bream is very fearful during spawning. If frightened, it might never return to its native area. This is why it was prohibited to sail during spawning or ring a church bell near bream territory.

Anglers are happy to catch pike (Esox lucius) or, if they are lucky, a bigger pike-perch (Lucioperca lucioperca) and eel (Anguilla anguilla). It is very popular to go for smelt (Osmerus eperlanus) in the winter season. Before going upstream to the River Nemunas for spawning in spring, they gather together in the Curonian Lagoon. During second half of winter, they start to smell like fresh cucumbers because of special glands on their bodies.

Sometimes fishermen catch rather rare fish species such as whitefish (Coregonus lavaretus lavaretus), Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) and sea trout (Salmo trutta trutta), which are on the Red List. Sea trout makes gravel “nests” up to 1 m in diameter for spawning. It can crossbreed with trout species and sometimes with salmon. The crossbreeds are of great vitality. Sea trout comes from the Baltic Sea to the Curonian Lagoon for spawning and later returns to the sea.

Another species included on the Red List – twaite shad (Alosa fallax) – also spawns in the Curonian Lagoon. It is very sensitive to water pollution. Therefore its population significantly decreased recently. It is prohibited to fish for it by any mean a round year.

3. Palce of Intereste

3.1. Museum and Galleries

3.1.1 Sea museum and dolphinarium

Kopgalis – the most northerly point of the Curonian Spit and the latest formed locality of the Curonian Spit peninsula, the integral part of Klaipėda Port. Sea Museum – Aquarium was opened in Kopgalis fort in 1979. Aquarium contains Lithuanian freshwater fish, Baltic Sea and tropical seas fish, invertebrates, sturgeons of impressive size. Tropical sea aquaria are designated for hard and soft corals, other invertebrate species and coral fish.

The Dolphinarium was opened in 1994. 11 common bottlenose dolphins and 2 California sea lions with 1 baby sea lion live in the dolphinarium. Entertaining swim with dolphins takes place in the dolphinarium since 2009. The dolphinarium was closed for reconstruction in October 2010, and reopened in August 2015.

The Dolphinarium along with Sea Museum and Aquarium covers an area of 33 000 m² and forms a unique complex of marine world.


3.1.2. Museum of Miniature Arts and Exhibition Hall of Lithuanian Art Museum

In 2007 Lithuanian Art Museum restored the exposition of Museum of Miniature Arts that had been open throughout 1976–1989 in Juodkrantė Evangelic Lutheran Church.

Over 300 pieces of art are presented in the exposition. There are miniature painted portraits, historical medals, fans created by the masters of Paris, St. Petersburg, and Prague (16th – 20th centuries), copper engravings, which depict costumes from the late 17th century – early 19th century.

The significant part of the exhibition includes the miniatures of the self–educated artist Lida Meškaitytė, which convey the subtle images of artist’s homeland (farmstead, landscape).
The exhibition hall of Lithuanian Art Museum was established in 1982. The exhibitions of Lithuanian and foreign artists are held in this hall during the summer season.


3.1.3. Weathervane Gallery

In 1844 a specific marking system – weathervanes – was introduced to facilitate the fishing control in the Curonian Lagoon. Each fisherman had to install this sign of recognition on a masthead of kurėnas (Kurenkahn). It consisted of tin shield painted in black and white color. Later on, red and white color flag as well as carved ornaments were added to a weathervane. The ornaments symbolized the living environment, celestial bodies, and tools. Based on a weathervane it was possible to identify the particular village a sailboat belonged to.
The history, development and items of weathervanes are presented at Daiva and Remigijus Žadeikis Weathervane Gallery in Juodkrantė. The gallery contains touristic literature, original ceramics, textile, and fine art pieces.


3.1.4. Thomas Mann Cultural Center, Museum

In 1929–1930, the family of Thomas Mann, German writer Nobel Prize Winner, built a cottage on the Mother-in-Law Hill in the northern part of Nida (Skruzdynės g.), and they used to spend their summers during the period from 1930 to 1932. Here T. Mann was writing his novel “Joseph and His Brothers” After the World War II the building was standing abandoned for a while. In 1967, a reading-room and the memorial exposition of the writer were opened in this house. In 1995–1996, the summerhouse was restored, financed by the Lithuanian and German Governments, and in 1996, the memorial museum was opened there, later – the non-profit organization Thomas Mann Cultural Center.

Classical music concerts, cultural evenings take place here during the summertime. International T. Mann Festival is annually organized by the Cultural Center.


3.1.5. Neringa History Museum

The exposition of Neringa History Museum presents the crafts of Curonian Spit inhabitants, fishing tools, models of “kurėnas” (national type of boat), “kiudelvatis” (barrel shape boat), dragnet and wind mast boats, smelt destroyer and hunting crows, findings at Nida Neolithic settlement, history of Nida Post Station. The emphasis of this exposition is the license of Nida Post Station owner F. C. Kuwert, providing the right to produce beer at the post station – pub, the copy (year 1785) and photo – replications and maps reflecting specific character of life of post roads and post stations of European significance. The other stands will show the colors of resort life of Nida in the 19th – early 20th centuries, everyday life of the residents and the history of old Froese family in Nida which has been of exclusive status for several centuries.

3.2. Moment of Nature

3.2.1. Vecekrug Dune (in Preila)

Vecekrug (Old Inn) Dune is the highest dune (67,2m) of the Curonian Spit. Its name originated from Curonian word “vece” – “old” and “kruogs” – “inn”, reminding about the former inn located at the foot of Dune. The entire dune is covered with mountain pine massifs. Planting of this pine was initiated in the middle of the 19th century. At the beginning seedlings were specially imported from Denmark, later – grown locally. Mountain pine was planted at major dunes which had drifted towards the Curonian Spit settlements, and it served for prevention of sand drifting over forests and settlements.


3.2.4. Parnidis Cognitive Path (in Nida)

A 1,8km nature trail starts at the foot of Parnidis Dune in the Silence Valley. Here you will see wonderful plants, lichen, fungi, insects, and birds, admire the magnificent landscapes, visit the “smithy” of a woodpecker, and familiarize with the “biography” of a tree. Children will have fun in a wellness path.


3.2.5. Bulvikis Cape (in Nida)

Bulvikis Cape is the widest spot of the Curonian peninsula of 3.8 km wide. It is believed that name of the cape and the neighboring lagoon originates from the Curonian surname Bulvikis. There is one more explanation of the origin: in Swedish language “bolja” means a wave and “vik” means a bay, so the name might be originated from Sweden.

Before the great dunes were planted with forest, the Bulvikis Cape has been extremely growing: in 1837–1910 it would annually become longer by 7 m. in average. Now we observe the reverse process – the cape is being washed by the stream and it gets smaller and smaller without cease.

3.3. Landscape

3.3.1. Observation Site at Avikalnis Hill (near Juodkrantė)

The observation site arranged on the top of Avikalnis Hill opens the view of blown sand plane of Avikalnis Horn and one of the most picturesque panorama of the Curonian Spit: valley, Grey (Dead) Dunes in Nagliai Nature Reserve, fragments of Juodkrante ancient forest. There is the southern part of parabolic dune complex, the old arboreta of common pines (ancient forest fragments) over 230 year’s old. Avikalnis Hill is located in the territory of Heron Hill Landscape Reserve. The easiest way to reach Avikalnis Hill is by vehicle from Klaipėda side at the 23rd kilometer of Klaipėda – Nida road, at the right side.

3.3.2. Cognitive Path in Nagliai Strict Nature Reserve (near Pervalka)

Nagliai Nature Reserve area – 1669,01 ha. It stretches from the north to the south for 8 km and it is 2 km wide on average. The highest dunes are Agila (53 m) and Vingis (51 m). The entire length of the dunes is made of ravines of the most intricate patterns blown by the wind and sand hills covered with grassy flora. Due to the color of the prevailing flora the dunes are called the “grey”. Between 1675 and 1854 the sand blown by winds buried four settlements of Nagliai village. Later the inhabitants formed two new settlements – Preila and Pervalka.

1100 m. long cognitive walking trail is arranged next to the parking area (15th km of the bikeway or 31st km of Smiltynė – Nida Road) in order to give the visitors an opportunity to get familiarized with the dune landscape in this Reserve. The Reserve is allowed to be visited in this particular point only.

The Reserve nature environment is highly sensitive to human visits, therefore, the visitors are asked to walk only through the specific paths.

3.3.3. Parnidis Dune and Sundial (in Nida)

An observation point is arranged on the top of Parnidis Dune. This is one of the most popular places of tourist attraction around Nida. A sundial was installed here in 1995. Original idea by an architect R. Krištapavičius, sculptor – K. Pūdymas, astronomical calculations by R. Klimka. This particular area was not randomly selected – Curonian Spit is the only place in Lithuania where the sunset and sunrise occurs from water surface.

The height of a gnomon (pin) has been 12 m. (2 m. underground) before the arrival of a hurricane Anatol as of 4 December 1999. The gnomon is decorated with the symbols of calendar holidays that were copied from the runic calendars of the 17th century. The Sundial after reconstruction was introduced to the community in 2011. Three decorative sculptures – “Winter Solstice”, “Spring Equinox” and “Autumnal Equinox” – were added to the entire complex. The author of Sundial – Ričardas Krištopavičius. All the visitors of Parnidis Dune may enjoy the view from the newly arrange observation site.

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