The Curonian Spit, a Lithuanian National park, lies across the Danė River from the city of Klaipeda on the South-west coast of Lithuania. Access to the Lithuanian end of the Spit is by a short ferry ride from Klaipeda. There is no bridge and no access to the Russian end of the Spit (see below centre beyond the walkers).
Klaipėda is an important port and container port (shown here and below) for Lithuania on the Baltic Sea, but sheltered from it by the Spit. It is usually ice-free all year round. The old town features German-style, 18th-century wood-framed buildings. Theatre Square, the city’s main gathering spot, is home to the neoclassical Drama Theatre. A 19th-century waterside fort protects the old port and now houses the waterside Lithuanian Sea Museum.
5,000 years ago, a narrow peninsula, 98 km long and 0.4-4 km wide (shown here and below) formed, separating the Baltic Sea from the Curonian Lagoon. The Great Dune Ridge was formed by sand transported by currents and built on moraine islands. Later it was covered by forest. UNESCO describes it as a unique and vulnerable, sandy and wooded cultural landscape on a coastal spit which features small Curonian lagoon settlements.
It has an abundance of unique natural and cultural features and, according to UNESCO, retains its social and cultural importance. Although just eight small settlements cover about 6% of the land, cultural elements include the remains of postal tracks, trade villages from the 10th and 11th centuries, traditional fishermen villages and wooden fishermen houses (shown here and below), some of which still catch and smoke fish – sea bream and eels shown below.
Many of the ancient fishermen villages have now been turned into resort settlements for tourists (shown here and below). Settlements include ancient wooden fishermen houses, professionally designed buildings of the 19th and 21st century, lighthouses, piers, churches, schools, villas, and elements of marine cultural heritage.
Along with the Great Dune Ridge there are remains of ancient parabolic dunes on one of which, is known as The Hill of Witches (Lithuanian: Raganų kalnas). This is now an outdoor sculpture gallery near Juodkrantė (shown here) about 0.5 km west of the Curonian Lagoon, on the Lithuanian Seaside Cycle Route. Begun in 1979, it now holds about 80 wooden sculptures along a series of trails. The artists drew on the long traditions of woodcarving in Samogitia and of Joninės celebrations on the hill.
The sculptures depict characters from Lithuanian folklore and pagan traditions. The public park got its name long before the sculptures came and refers to the pagan celebrations that took place on the hill during the Midsummer’s Eve Festival (June 24), when people danced, sang, and celebrated the older folk traditions of the country. After Christianity came, the celebration was renamed Saint Jonas’ Festival. One trail begins up some steps from the road, past a statue depicting the bounty that comes from the jaws of the sea.
Some are witty, inviting tourists to interact with them (see below).
The Hill of Witches is a unique museum, depicting devils, witches and other folklorique characters,
portraying the natural and mystical spirits said to inhabit the place (here, the devil discusses with a witch). Most of the sculptures of are placed around the scenic Fir Valley, a natural amphitheatre of the forest formed by parabolic dunes.
The Hill of Eve used to attract crowds of a thousand people from the other side of the lagoon on Midsummer Day (shown below of people dancing with a band). At cockcrow (below right) the demons disappeared again, so it was said.
Scenes from fisherfolk’s lives:
Some carvings depict the local life of fishermen – here is shown a fisherman in his boat.
Below is a fisherman’s wife holding up a lantern on the shore on a windy night while she waits for her fisherman to land with his catch.
Some of the scenes portrayed are more mythical:
Here, a knight is defending a woman in a tower from the advances of a dragon.
Another (below) portrays the story of a young kitchen girl who had watched a witch roast her catches by sliding them into an oven on a long shovel. Artfully she asked the witch to show her how it was done by sitting on the shovel. Then the kitchen girl slid the witch into the oven