Suitcase and World: The Curonian Spit.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Curonian Spit.

Kuršių nerija, known in English as the Curonian Spit, is a narrow strip of sand stretching 97 kilometres (58 miles) along the Baltic Sea in western Lithuania.   The northern part of the Curonian Spit lies in Lithuania; the southern part in Kalingrad, Russia.   The Spit averages just over a mile wide with a single main road running between dunes all the way to the Russian border.

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.

The Curonian Spit is a National Park as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The Curonian Spit contains the largest drifting sand dunes in Europe.  Who knew there are sand dunes in Europe?  Of course, we'll be spending our time on Lithuanian part of the Spit which we will get to via ferry from the port of Klaipeda.

The Curonian Spit offers some wonderful landscapes as well as cozy towns and villages.  The four main settlements of Juodkrante, Pervalka, Preila and Nida, collectively known as the City of Neringa, are lagoon-side.  

Juodkrante. Hill of Witches

The quaint, little town of Juodkrante is known for its quirky character and a true symbol of its quirkiness can be summed up at the Hill of Witches.

Originally used as a celebratory point for the midsummer feast of St John, the Hill of Witches is now used as an outdoor gallery to showcase a collection of wooden sculptures depicting witches, demons and other mythical creatures crafted from Lithuanian folklore. The Hill of Watches can be found close to Juodkrante’s town center and houses close to 100 different oak carvings including various pieces of seating furniture including thrones and swing sets.  I also read there's a bike trail that runs by the Hill of Witches. and bikes are like oil and water but bro is bicycling fanatic so I might have to cave in and go for a ride.  Might.....

Image by jaudrius

Pervalka. The Gray Dunes

The Curonian Spit is covered with dense pine forests and sand, some of the dunes reaching 67.2 meters in height. But the ecosystem is fragile and some expect that the dunes may be lost within the next 2 centuries.  One of the most impressive ranges of dunes are the Gray Dunes (or Dead Dunes), so named because of low grasses growing on them which cause the dunes to appear gray from any distance. The Gray Dunes are located just  north of the village of Pervalka.

Nida.  Thomas Mann and a Sundial
Image by Wojsyl
Thomas Mann (6 June 1875 – 12 August 1955) was a German novelist, short story writer, social critic, philanthropist, essayist, and 1929 Nobel Prize laureate, known for his series of highly symbolic and ironic epic novels and novellas, noted for their insight into the psychology of the artist and the intellectual. In 1929, Mann had a cottage built in Nida, Lithuania.  At that time, Nida was a thriving German art colony.  Mann's summer cottage now is a cultural center dedicated to him, with a small memorial exhibition.

Weathervanes of The Curonian Spit
Weathervanes are an iconic feature of the Curonian spit.  From the images I've seen, they are unlike any other weathervanes I've ever seen and they are very whimsical and colorful!  I smile every time I see a picture of one.

The iconic weathervanes were introduced to the Curonian Spit in 1844 by the fishing authorities. They were attached to the mast tops of the local fishing boats to identify them in the assigned fishing areas. It was also possible to learn from them about the owner's family, his wealth, and his achievements in fishing.

A flat board or piece of tin seemed too ordinary, so fishermen began to decorate the fishermen’s signs with designs.  In earlier times, the designs were dominated by stylized symbols. Later, more concrete elements appeared – houses, churches, boats, silhouettes of people and animals, even mythical creatures.

The very first weathervanes weren’t colored, only coated with tar so they would be more solid. By the end of the 19th century they became colored. The fishermen used the kind of paint which they knew how to make themselves: dark blue, brown, red, white. Their colors and combinations were strictly defined for each residential area: two black and two white rectangles – Nida; a black and a white triangle – Preila; a white diamond on a black background – Nida’s Purvynė; a black cross on a white background – Juodkrantė; a black rectangle on a white background – Pervalka. The end of the sign had to have an attached red and white tail of the same length and width. 

Nowadays, the fishermen are producing weathervanes as souvenirs for tourists.  I see one hanging on the wall of my bedroom - too cute to pass by!

By the time we make it to the Curonian Spit, it will be in September.  I'm hoping that by then, the summer crowds will have diminished greatly and we'll be able to enjoy this little piece of Lithuanian paradise in relatively quiet.