The Curonian Spit is a unique and vulnerable, sandy and wooded cultural landscape on a coastal spit with small Curonian lagoon settlements.
This extended sand dune peninsula is 98 km long and 0.4-4 km wide. Its human habitation dates back to prehistoric times. During this period, natural forces of wind and wave have threatened the spit. Only continuous human efforts to fight the erosion of the Spit have made possible its survival today.
The Curonian Spit is a transboundary property, belonging both to the Klaipeda Region (Lithuania) and the Kaliningrad District (Russian Federation). The status of their respective National Parks guarantees the protection of the cultural landscape. They share the common goal of preserving the natural and cultural attributes of the property.
Formation and Evolution
The Curonian Spit was formed by the sea, wind and human activity and it is still shaped by them. An abundance of rare natural and cultural elements enriched it. Local communities adapted to the changes in the natural environment in order to survive. But still, they preserved its social and cultural importance. This interaction between humans and nature framed the Curonian Spit cultural landscape.
The history of this unusual site began 5,000 years ago, when sand conducted by currents formed a narrow peninsula on moraine islands. Later, the forest covered it.
At the beginning of the 19th century, human habitation could no longer be possible without immediate action. Subsequently, dune stabilisation work started and has never stopped since then.
Outstanding Universal Value
In 2000 UNESCO added the Curonian Spit to the World Heritage List. Thus, it recognized the site as an “Outstanding Universal Value” according to the following criterion:
- Criterion (v): “to be an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, land-use, or sea-use which is representative of a culture (or cultures), or human interaction with the environment especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change;”
The Curonian Spit is therefore an outstanding example of a landscape threatened from natural forces, such as wind and tide. The most vulnerable elements of its cultural landscape are the oldest wooden fishermen’s houses, the wooden decor of professionally designed buildings, and the human-made protective coastal dune ridge, which is influenced by the natural coastal processes under the influence of global climate change.
The cultural, natural and human-made elements of the Curonian Spit cultural landscape illustrate the most important features of its formation through their shapes, volumes, materials, and functions.
The conservation of the property’s tangible heritage directly involves the local community. It also carries the region’s intangible heritage, such as traditions and living expressions inherited from ancestors to descendants.
Because of the continuous evolution and development of the cultural landscape, it is very important to regulate the number of visitors.
The Curonian Spit needs a collaboration of institutions within Lithuania and Russia for an effective management and protection.