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The Curonian Spit, Lithuania/Russia

October 31st, 2007 / / Links: Google Earth, Google Maps, Yahoo! Maps, Virtual Earth / Nearest places
 
 

The Curonian Spit (Lithuanian: Kuršių Nerija, Russian: Куршская коса, German: Kurische Nehrung, Latvian: Kuršu kāpas) is a 98 km long, thin, curved sand dune peninsula that separates the Curonian Lagoon from the Baltic Sea.

The Curonian Spit stretches from the Sambian Peninsula on the south to its northern tip next to a narrow strait, across from which is the port city of 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 (see the map). The width of the spit varies from a minimum of 400 m in Russia (near the village of Lesnoye) to a maximum of 3,800 m in Lithuania (just north of Nida).

According to Baltic mythology, the Curonian Spit was formed by a strong girl, Neringa, who was playing on the shore of the sea. This child also appears in some other myths (in some of which she is shown as a young strong woman, similar to a female version of the Greek Heracles).

The Curonian Spit was formed about 5,000 years ago. From ca. 800 to 1016, it was the location of Kaup, a major pagan trading centre which has not been excavated yet. The Teutonic Knights occupied the area in the 13th century, building their castles at Memel (1252), Neuhausen (1283), and at Rossitten (1372).

In the 16th century, a new period of dune formation began. Deforestation of the spit due to overgrazing, timber harvesting, and building of boats for the siege of Königsberg 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. Owing to these efforts, much of the spit is now covered with forests. In the 19th century the Curonian Spit was inhabited primarily by Curonians (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.[citation needed] Until the 20th century, most people in the area made their living by fishing. The German population was expelled after World War 2.

After the breakup of the Soviet Union, tourism flourished; many Germans, mostly the descendants of the inhabitants of the area, choose the Curonian Spit (especially Nida, as no visas are needed for Germans in Lithuania) as their holiday destination.

From 2002-2005 local environmentalists in both Kaliningrad Oblast and Lithuania protested against Lukoil's plans to exploit the D6 oilfield, which is in the territorial waters of Russia 22.5 km from the Curonian Spit due 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 meet support in the government of Russia. They were, however, supported by the government of Lithuania, as the oilfield is just about four km from the boundary of Lithuanian territorial waters and the prevailing northward currents means that the Lithuanian coastlines would receive a large part of potential damage in case of leakage. However, the opposition to the exploitation of D6 oilfield met little international support and the oil platform was opened in 2005.

[Source: Wikipedia]

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