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Curonian Spit

Cultural criteria: v
Year of inclusion in the List of World Heritage: 2000

In the southeast part of the Baltic Sea for the full 98 km a narrow (400-3,800 m) sandy peninsula extends – the Kurshskaya Kosa. Its south half is situated on the territory of Russia (Kaliningradskaya oblast), where in 1987 the Kurshskaya Kosa National Park was created (6.6 thousand ha). The north half belongs to Lithuania, and here since 1991 the Kursiu Nerija National Park has been functioning (26.5 thousand ha).

The Kurshskaya Kosa is of great value as a natural monument. This is one of the largest aeolian formations in the world; sand dunes reach here a height of almost 70 m and stretch literally for a score of kilometers. Further, the Kosa situated on the White Sea-Baltic Sea way of migratory birds’ flight, is also known among ornithologists – every year in spring and autumn from 10 to 20 million birds fly over these places, considerable part of which stay here for rest and feeding. Many of these birds represent rare and endangered species, figuring in the Red Books of Russia, Lithuania and in the International one.

But in the UNESCO list the Kurshskaya Kosa was inscribed neither by natural, nor by cultural and natural nomination (though such recommendations were already expressed), but by nomination of cultural heritage, or rather – as a unique cultural landscape.

Man's occupation of this peninsula began already in prehistoric times, when the Kosa was almost completely covered by forest. In the Middle Ages this area was populated by the kurshiai tribe that already then had to fight with natural forces such as waves and wind, destroying dunes and shore. And people began to strengthen these sand formations, trying to preserve them from final washing out and weathering.

However by the XVII-XVIII centuries the forests on the Kosa were taken down in a great measure (only 10% remained), which caused the development of intensive wind erosion. Shifting sands began to cover settlements, routes and the extant woodlands. A disastrous situation emerged, and many scientists of Europe began to work out plans of rescue of the unique landscape. In the middle of the XIX century intensive reafforestation works began here. In consequence of laborious work of many years great number of trees were bedded out and grown, and dunes were noticeably stabilized. Both local species and those from North America, Far East, Central and South Europe were taken here. Among the species delivered from other regions of the world are various pines (mountain pine, Banks pine, Murray pine, black pine etc.), as well as white spruce, European larch, ash-leaved maple, Canadian poplar, large-leaved lime etc. Altogether about one hundred different species of trees and bushes were introduced.

Nowadays forests on the Kurshskaya Kosa (both native, and of artificial origin) cover approximately 2/3 of the whole territory, in their turn, 2/3 of them are pine forests mainly represented by two species – Archangel Fir and mountain pine.

The forest plantations made the local landscape not only more tamperproof and suitable for human habitation, but also much more aesthetically acceptable, and now the Kosa is considered as one of the most beautiful natural corners of the whole Baltics, this is a very popular holiday place (in the Russian part there are recreation settlements such as Lesnoy, Rybachy, Morlskoye, in the Lithuanian part – Nida, Preila, Yodkrante). The Kurshskaya Kosa landscape has many faces – this is a harmonious combination of forest greenery, whiteness of sandy beaches and blue boundless space of the Baltic Sea.

The modern cultural landscape is taken good care of. Thus, with the view of improving aesthetic, sanitary conditions, and species composition, landscape and sanitary cutting is being carried out. Every spring planting works are carried out here. One beds out yearlings or biennial young plants grown from local trees’ seeds, as well as taken from special nursery gardens. On the part of the bay one beds out cane, protecting the shore from floating of ice and wave wash. Securing of open sands on dunes’ slopes is conducted in a number of places by means of special “cages” (“fascines”) made of brushwood. And to enable people to move on sands, special wooden decks are built.

The main occupation of the local population in the past was fishery. Relict historical landscape attests to it: Under the sand layer fishing villages were found, buried by dunes already in the XVIII–XIX centuries. Among Cultural Heritage sites are also unique defense engineering structures of great value from the viewpoint of history and science, as well as monuments of archaeology and religious architecture.