Written by Koentje3000 on 26 Jul, 2007
Palanga municipality is one of the smallest in Lithuania, with only 20.000 inhabitants. It occupies a roughly 4km wide strip on Lithuania's northwest coast and runs for 20km from the tiny hamlet Nemirseta, a former border post between Lithuania and the German Empire, all the…Read More
Palanga municipality is one of the smallest in Lithuania, with only 20.000 inhabitants. It occupies a roughly 4km wide strip on Lithuania's northwest coast and runs for 20km from the tiny hamlet Nemirseta, a former border post between Lithuania and the German Empire, all the way to the Latvian border. The two major settlements within the municipal border, Palanga proper and Sventoji, attract a multiple of their population as tourists every summer. The town even ranks first in the most visited places by locals but fails to attract foreigners.The main reason for tourists to come to Palanga is the excellent sandy beach, brushing the Baltic Seacoast for the full length of the town and beyond. The at times 200m wide sand strip is lined with dunes and pine trees. The busiest beaches are located near the 400m long Palanga Pier aka The Sea Bridge, offering excellent views of the surrounding beaches and dunes. Take care, however, when strolling on the beach front as some beaches are designated for women or men only (although small children are allowed). Normally the single-sex beaches are signposted well, and if you do end up in the wrong place, just turn around as some people might get offended.Apart from the beach there are a few other interesting sights in Palanga town, which can easily be covered on foot. A good starting point is Palanga's main square on the intersection of Vytauto and Kretingos Street. You can pick up a map at the nearby Tourist Information Centre. Also on the square is the brick neogothic St. Mary's Basilica with its bright red and white interior. Just south of the church, the partly pedestrian Basanavicius Street runs for 1km towards the pier and the beaches. This street is lined with souvenir stalls, ice-cream carts, cafés and restaurants, often situated in brightly painted wooden houses giving the town a certain charm despite the summer crowds. And did I mention the absence of high-rise buildings so characteristic for seaside resorts world-wide?From the "impossible lovers" statue of Jurate and Kastytis the Meiles Alley runs south between pine trees and along the coast. Signs point towards the women-only and mixed beach. About 1km south, across the Dariaus and Gereno Street, is the Palanga Botanical Park. This landscape garden is shaped by French garden architect Édouard André, and features a greenhouse, swan ponds, statues, and beaches. In the southwest is the Birute Hill, dedicated to pagan priestess Birute with an artificial cave and a memorial. The main attraction, however, is the 19th century Tyszkiewicz palace. The neo-renaissance building now houses the interesting Palanga Amber Museum, dedicated to the "Baltic Gold". Polished and unpolished amber stones are on displays, often with animal or vegetable inclusions and in varying sizes, as well as ancient amber jewelry. Entrance fee is only €1.5 so this is a must-see when visiting the town. Vytauto Street runs east of the park and the main square is a short walk back north.Close
Written by Owen Lipsett on 02 Jan, 2005
Although the Dr. Jonas Sliupas Memorial House features an exhibition on the history of Palanga and the surrounding area, like many other museums in Western Lithuania it suffers from something of a dearth of information in English. Consequently, I hope this summary of Palanga’s…Read More
Although the Dr. Jonas Sliupas Memorial House features an exhibition on the history of Palanga and the surrounding area, like many other museums in Western Lithuania it suffers from something of a dearth of information in English. Consequently, I hope this summary of Palanga’s history may be of some use to you.
While Klaipeda today takes pride its role as Lithuania’s sole commercial port, Palanga held that place of honor for a far longer period. Palanga’s first recorded appearance is in a 1253 agreement between the Bishop of Courland and the Livonian Knights (a branch of the Teutonic Order) regarding the division of the Baltic coast. This is singularly appropriate since the narrow strip of coast between the mouths of Raze and Sventoji Rivers that Palanga now occupies was the only piece of the eastern Baltic coastline never to fall under the Teutonic Order’s de facto control, preventing the Livonian Knights from linking up with their Prussian brethren further south.
The Orders’ inability to gain control of the area, which wasn’t for lack of effort, enabled the nascent Lithuanian state to establish a window onto the sea, with Palanga as its port. Internecine warfare related to the establishment of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth combined with futile attempts on the part of the Teutonic Order to seize the territory meant that it took until 1422 for Grand Duke Vytautas the Great to establish permanent Lithuanian control over the area. Palanga had special significance for Vytautas, as legend has it that his mother Birute was born in the area and served as a vestal virgin at a pagan shrine on the hill that bears her name in the Botanical Park on the town’s south edge.
The Grand Duchy of Lithuania retained control of this small window onto the Baltic until the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (once the largest country in Europe) was erased from the map of Europe by the Third Partition of Poland in 1795. In the interim period, Palanga prospered, competing primarily with the Hanseatic ports of Liepaja and Riga to the north (in present-day Latvia) to export Lithuanian agricultural goods and raw materials to the rest of the Baltic. The harbor was enlarged in 1589 by an English trade company that had been authorized to do so by King Sigismund III Vasa. In 1679, King John III Sobieski permitted the establishment of a permanent English trade mission on condition the English built at second port at the mouth of the Sventoji River. This settlement, Sventoji, is today part of Palanga.
Palanga suffered a near fatal blow in 1701 when Swedish forces destroyed both ports at the behest of Riga’s merchants. Since both rivers tended to silt up and as the Commonwealth as a whole suffered from the inertia and discord that led to its destruction at the century’s end, neither was rebuilt. After the Third Partition of Poland, all of the Eastern Baltic north of Memel (present-day Klaipeda) fell under Russian control, rendering the presence of a specifically Lithuanian port irrelevant. Indeed, the Russians did not even consider Palanga particularly Lithuanian and in 1819 transferred it from Telsiai County to the province of Courland (roughly equivalent to the present Latvian province of Kurzeme).
In 1824, Count Michael Tyszkiewicz (Tiskevicius) acquired Palanga Manor (today’s Botanical Park) and set about trying to revive the town’s fortunes. At the time, Palanga’s economy, ironically, relied on the Baltic’s storms in two different ways: first, because they deposited large quantities of amber on its long beach, and second, because they made terrestrial trade more attractive than maritime trade in the winter months, making Palanga’s position on Russia’s border with Prussia highly advantageous. Tyszkiewicz unsuccessfully sought to revive Palanga’s own sea trade by having a pier built into the Baltic, however it soon silted up. Not to be discouraged, he and his heirs then sought to refashion Palanga (like Liepaja to the north) as a Baltic resort.
Despite the best efforts of Tyszkiewicz and his heirs, which may be best seen in the attractive manor and gardens they had built for themselves, tourism never exceeded more than a few thousand guests per year under Russian rule. After Russia banned the printing of books in Lithuanian and newspapers using the Latin alphabet in 1864, Palanga became an important location for smuggling such publications northward from Prussia (later Germany), which treated its Lithuanian population somewhat more tolerantly. As a result, Palanga became something of a cultural hotbed during the subsequent Lithuanian national revival, although the risk of deportation to Siberia kept such activities from reaching a very wide audience.
Despite this activity, Palanga was initially incorporated into Latvia, rather than Lithuania, when both countries became independent in 1919, on account of its location within the Duchy of Courland. In 1921, it rejoined Lithuania as part of a broader renegotiation of the Latvian-Lithuanian border. Tourism tripled during Lithuania’s period of interwar independence and reached its present rate around 100,000 under Soviet occupation, when four neighboring villages were annexed to Palanga. A further upsurge in tourism since Lithuania regained its independence has led to a growth in the amber trade, leading to the creation of the Palanga Guild of Amber Masters in 2000. Notwithstanding this history and some fine pieces of public art, Palanga is a beach resort first and foremost.