Watching documentaries about the moving dunes of the deserts, I always wondered ‘What would happen if little by little your house and everything else you have in the world start to be full of sands entering from the windows, the doors and making you wonder whether the city will still breath next year?’ It must have been a problem rather common in ancient Egypt (where sand was in every meal as shown by damages on the enamel of mummies’ teeth ) still I was not expecting to see the same in the cold Northern Europe!
This is what I could find of a unique combination between history, archeology, preserved nature that can teach also humanity few lessons.
One of the things that caught my attention whilst being on the Curonian Spit was a big reserve called ‘Nagliu Rezervatas’ or ‘Reserve of Nagliai’ – a quite interesting but yet an anonymous name which does not describe it well. An incredible landscape of hot moving dunes, a literal sea of sands which is easily accessible and explorable- even if only on the marked path, and for many good reasons. Coming back to the name – What could have been this Nagliai that required a park for it?
The story in reality goes way back in time, geological time. The Baltic Coast has notoriously strong winds, storms and cold agitated waters – some good reasons for the settlements to be rarer, farther away from the water and more protected comparing them to the ones along the Mediterranean Sea. As we have seen in a previous article involving sands and the fate of thousands of French soldiers (The Lithuanian Valley of Death) , the combination of winds and deforestation increased the speed of the moving dunes of the Curonian Spit.
Of sands and men
The rather unusual story of those dunes and of the village (or shall I say villages?) of Nagliai goes back to those moving dunes and the strong winds. I found online a picture of the effects of one of those sandstorms, below.
As it seems, the first of the 4 (at least) villages was located around the Nagliai Horn, closer to nowadays Juodkrante. It was abandoned in 1675 and the villagers moved South to a new site on the other side of the same promontory. The displacing sands still forced the settlement to move south other two times. The third relocation surprises for its celerity, only 30 years. To understand better the unusual phenomena, a fisherman born in 1728 would have seen the village dismantled and rebuilt three times in his (relatively long) lifetime.
According to our sources, 8 villages had the same fate. The source (below the link – in Lithuanian) tells us how the sandy wind was an omnipresent nightmare for the inhabitants. It entered in the houses from everywhere – from the windows, from the ceiling and it covered streets and food (interesting comparison with Ancient Egypt, btw). Other villages and cities had the same fate, Juodkrante and Nida for example. Nowadays the exact location of those old villages is unknown. It is impossible to find any traces due to the massive amount of sand covering the settlements and, also, because the villages (churches in primis) were completely dismantled and moved to the other location.
Remember when I told you that those dunes can be explored only using the marked path? Well, one of the reasons is the unique historical/archeological story of the migrating villages. Another reason is naturalistic. The dunes are a unique biome. They are covered with herbs and small trees which are fighting everyday their personal battle against the moving sands. Small flowers and tiny herbs are covering the whole surface of the sands. Somehow this small vegetation stabilizes the dunes just before the next strong wind or rain, guesting in their roots insects and small animals. Bigger animals (as well as humans) leave their tracks pretty easily on the sand, allowing you to speculate if that track you see going toward the warmer part of the dunes belongs to a fox, a wolf or a stray dog going home.
What can be seen
The walk itself is simply incredible. Try to imagine yourself somewhere in Morocco or Tunisia – without camels. Climbing the dunes can be difficult, but the spectacle of seeing the Baltic Sea one one side and the lagoon on the other is breathtaking. A stripe of green and yellow land on a blue blanket. I would not be surprised if the pictures I took in 2018 are showing trees and plants which today are covered by sand – the dunes move daily, reaching a maximum of 5 meters per year. The path itself requires lot of work to be kept usable hence the small fee to enter it. It can be hot in summer so is highly advisable is to have water with you, a hat and remember to take off your shoes before they become full of thin sand.
About the villages, there is no way you can spot where were they located. As above, not much should have left on the spot when the fishermen decided to move. Also, houses built out of wood can be easily relocated in case on need. Still, it would be nice to have some geological and archeological prospection to see what those people may have left behind them or the plan of their villages.
The most spectacular view is from a small wooden tower, on the top of the last dune. I did not take a panoramic picture, somehow (still regretting it). No words can describe the combination of blue, green and yellow so enjoy the pictures 🙂
How to reach
Easily accessible from the only road that connects the whole Curonian Spit. I created a Viewranger route to guide you towards the entrance – here the link – ViewRanger . You can find an easy accessible parking lot just in front of the path’s entrance. Usually you can find a stand selling water and coffee. The path to the moving dunes is well marked and safe. The tower on the top of the last dune is made of scrap wood, something that added a lot to the magic of the place. Good point for pictures.
Sources and latest news
This is from Vakaru Expresas (in lithuanian) – details the history of the villages. I took from here the picture of the house covered of sands.
From Visit Neringa
From Lithuania Travel