KLAIPĖDA DISTRICT, bordering in the West with the Curonian Lagoon, occupies the territory of 133600 ha. In the historic point of view it is a very rich territory, in which an ethnically distinctive Klaipėda region is adherent to Lithuania. The picturesque landscape is created not only by the seacoast with its Regional Park, where a few reserves and some nature monuments are located (Dutchman’s Cap, fragments of the shore of the Litorina Sea), but also, few rivers – the biggest of them are Minija and Veiviržas, the lakes – Kalotė, Kapstatas, Placys. Klaipėda district is rich in natural resources: oil, wood, peat and gravel. The district is divided into 11 subdistricts or small administrative units. According to 2013 statistics 51600 inhabitants live there.
GARGŽDAI is an administrative centre of Klaipėda district. In historical annals Gargždai is first mentioned in the name of Garisda in 1253. In the 15th century, the settlement moved to the western bank of the river Minija. In the late 15th and in the early 16th centuries, Gargždai Manor belonged to Kesgailos, the elders of Samogitians. Later it belonged to royal territories and was owned by noblemen assigned by the Duke. In the late 18th century, Manor became private. In the 4th decade of the 19th century to the beginning of the 20th century Gargždai Manor was owned by the famous baron E. Ronne.The park of the Manor used to be one of the best-maintained English-style parks in Samogitia. The Estate was also known for its antique collections, a large and rich library. In 1972 Gargždai was granted the Magdeburg Rights and a coat-of-arms (the sword surrounded by laurel garland in the red frame). The settlement became a town and was entitled to organize markets and fairs. From the 19th century, Gargždai was the frontier town and experienced its palmy days. The trade, crafts, cultural and religious life were developing at that time. During the times of the print ban (1864–1904), Lithuanian literature was smuggled via Gargždai to Lithuania.
In 1534–1540, the first wooden Catholic church was built. When Lithuania got its independence in 1918, Gargždai became the parish centre. During World War II the town nearly burned down. In 1950, Gargždai was announced an administrative centre of Klaipėda district. In 1958, it was granted a status of a “town-type settlement” and in 1965 – a status of a town. In the same year, when a Plant of Construction Materials (one of the largest plants in the Soviet Baltic region) was built and began functioning, Gargždai then started to develop rapidly.
A post-modernistic brick church of St. Archangel Michael, which became the symbol of revival for Gargždai, was built in 1989-1990 (architect Vladas Lučinskas).Garžgdai is proud of its historic heritage, i.e. the lines of old streets, the Manor park, renewed Market square and restored Gates of Old Cemetery, the Chapel in the churchyard and belfry. The black granite monument, dedicated to the memory of Gargždai and its neighbouring territories Jews, who were shot in June, 1941, reminds the cruelty and brutality of Nazis.
The town park is really beautiful and picturesque. Various festivals, sports competitions and other events are held in it. TheCross and the Monument to commemorate the Nation’s anguish and Victims of exile were set up in the park.
In 2005, Gargždai Regional Museum was established. In 2010, the main street – Klaipėda street – was reconstructed, as well as the buildings of Hospital and Primary Healthcare Centre. The building, wherein Public Health Bureau, Family Support Centre, Health Care Division of Klaipėda district municipality administration are located, was renovated in 2011.The population of Gargždai is more than 15300 residents.
ABLINGA Memorial stands on the highest place of Klaipeda district, and is situated 4 km away from Endriejavas. July 27, 1972, after a month of intensive Lithuania folk artists work, the ensemble of wooden oak sculptures was erected on the Mound of Žvaginiai. It was dedicated to 42 Ablinga and Žvaginiai villages residents, shot by Nazi soldiers June 23, 1941. The sculptures of different styles and different expressions unite a common idea – protest against violence and immortality of the nation. In 1985, Alfonsas Šiaulytis initiated the rebuilding of God’s Mother Lourdes, in which various religious events take place. Ablinga is an old village, known from the 16th century. In recent years, Ablinga surroundings have changed. There you can find oil extraction platforms.
In the past AGLUONĖNAI was a typical village of Minor Lithuania. In an old farmstead you will find a restored ethnographic steading with the wide exposition of household utensils and various tools. The term Minor Lithuania was first mentioned by Simonas Grunau in the publication “History of Prussia” in 1526. Lietuvininkai settled down in the territories called Klaipėda, Šilute, Tilže, Gumbinė, Pilkalnis, Raganė, Isrutas, Stalupėnai, Geldupė and Labguva at that time. In the 13th century, these territories were conquered by crusaders and up to the beginning of the 20th century had been under the rule of Germans. The residents of Minor Lithuania were Germanized, but, nevertheless, lietuvininkai maintained their language, manners, traditions and played a significant role in fostering Lithuanian written language. In 1547, in Konigsberg, Martynas Mazvydas published the first Lithuanian book “Katekizmas” (“Catechism”). When in the 19th century Lithuania was governed by Czarist Russia, the forbidden Lithuanian press, books and newspapers were printed in Minor Lithuania and delivered secretly to Lithuania. Agluonėnai was first mentioned in the tax book of Klaipeda Parish residents in 1540. In 1736, the first school was established. In the middle of the 19th century, Agluonėnai became the centre of the parish. At that time there the steam mills and windmills were functioning, as well as a sawmill. In 1864, the post agency was opened, in 1882 – telegraph, 20 years later the telephone connection was launched.
After reestablishment of the Independence of Lithuania in 1990, the Oakwood of Lietuvininkai was planted and the monument-altar, the Gediminaičiai Pillars (sculptor J. Mickevičius), was erected on the bank of the River Agluona. The monument was dedicated to the 450th anniversary of Agluonėnai and the Independence of Lithuania. One of the hypothesis states, that the family roots of Immanuel Kant (1724–1804), the founder of German philosophy, could have been found in Kantvainai, the village next to Agluonėnai. Richard Kant, the great-grandfather of the philosopher is supposed to have lived in Kantvainai. The grandfather of Immanuel Kant was a saddler in Klaipėda, whereas the father of the philosopher ran his trade in Konigsberg, where the future philosopher was born.
BALSĖNAI is a little village nearby Veivirženai. Jurgis Šaulys (1879–1948), one of the signatories of 1918 Act of LithuaniaIn dependence, lived there. A roof-pole was erected in his native place (sculptor Vytautas Savickis). During the years of the print ban, Jurgis Šaulys distributed and edited Lithuanian press. In 1912, he graduated from Bern University and gained doctoral degree in philosophy. He worked as a General secretary of the Lithuania Council and as a diplomat in Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Vatican and Poland. He also was one of the founders of the Lithuania Democrat Party. He is buried in Lugana town in Switzerland.
Balsėnai is also a birthplace of Prof. Dr. Kazimieras Antanavičius, signatory of 1990 Act of Lithuania Independence. A wooden cross is erected in the place of his homestead.
DARIUS village, previously known as Rubiškės, was named after the aviator Steponas Darius (1896–1933), who was born there. In 1907, S. Darius and his family went to the USA. There he graduated from technical school, attended college. In 1917, he abbreviated his father’s Jucevičius-Darašius surname and called himself Darius. He served in the U.S.Army, participated in the fights in France. In 1920, he returned to Lithuania, graduated from Cadet School and became a pilot. In 1927, he got an aviation captaincy. S. Darius was one of the organizers of sports movement in Lithuania. In 1927, he went back to the United States, fostering the idea to fly across the Atlantic Ocean by airplane. While working in civil aviation, he saved money for an airplane. S. Darius together with his close friend S. Girėnas, supported by charitable countrymen, bought an airplane for flight from New York to Kaunas. July 15, 1933, in the morning S. Darius and S. Girėnas on the board of their own plane Lituanica flew from New York. Crowds of people were waiting for them at Kaunas airport, but they did not come. Pilots successfully crossed the Atlantic. At that time it was a heroic deed. However, Lituanica fell down in the territory of Germany at 12.36 a.m. on the 17th of July. The real reasons of the accident are not known. The native house of S. Darius did not remain. It was reconstructed. The museum house was outfitted there. The Hill of Glory was mounded and an oaken sacred roof pole was built in his honour (folk artist Vytautas Savickis). In Soviet times it was forbidden to mention the pilots’ names and to be proud of them. In 1991, a branch of the Lithuania Aviation Museum was established in the homestead. In 2006, next to the homestead there were a 7 metres in diameter Lituanica compass memorial stone and granite slab set up. Every year the Museum in S. Darius birthplace is visited by more than 2 thousand people.
DOVILAI is a settlement situated on the right bank of the River Minija. Supposedly, the name of Dovilai is derived from the personal name Dovile, the family that first settled there. Dovilai castle was mentioned in 1304 and in 1313. A stony with a pointed tower Evangelic-Lutheran church was built in 1860. 2 km South-West Dovilai, on the right bank of the River Minija, there is the mound Pilutė, sometimes called as Muškalnis.
DREVERNA, an old fishermen’s village, first mentioned in 1253, is located by the Curonian Lagoon and stretching along the River Dreverna. In the North-East there is Klaipėda Channel by which vessels used to reach Klaipėda directly from the River Nemunas, thus, bypassing the dangerous Curonian Lagoon. The length of the Channel is 24 km and its width is about 30 m. In 1863–1873, the Channel was being dug by the French prisoners of war. Lots of them died. On the road to the International Ferry there stands a monument to commemorate them. Dreverna, as a fishermen’s settlement, was already known in the 13th century. In the 17th–18th centuries, it was famous for its fish markets. The first school was established in 1798. In 2010, in the reconstructed Jonas Gižas ethnographic homestead, the branches of Gargždai Regional Museum and Tourism Information Centre started functioning.
Southward of Dreverna, near the Curonian Lagoon, another fishermen’s village SVENCELĖ is situated. The objects of interest in Svencelė are its upland moor and the botanic reserve of swamps. In this village the nature monument is considered to be the oak of 1,6 meters in diameter.
ENDRIEJAVAS is a settlement located by the old Samogitian Road, near the lake of Kapstatas. Samogitian Road there crosses Endriejavas sierra, which separates Littoral Lowland from Rietavas plain. This range of hills is the first highest barrier for the moving sea air masses. It often is a natural boundary between coastal and continental climate. Endriejavas is situated 140 metres above the sea level. The settlement has been mentioned since 18th century. It is considered that the name came from the name of the first church constructor Adriejus Radzevicius. Later Endriejavas was governed by Jurgis Tendzegolskis and by Oginskiai from Rietavas. Saint Apostle Adriejus wooden church was built in 1943, instead of the previous one, which burned down on the first day of World War II (June 22, 1941).
JUDRĖNAI – the settlement – is located on the outskirts of the forests called in the same name. The stream Judrė flows through the village. In 1780, wooden Saint Anthony Paduvietis church was built. Inside the church you can find the baroque style alters of the 19th century and the pictures dating back to the 18th century. The construction of this church was sponsored by Liudvikas Semaška. The aviator’s Steponas Darius mother was buried in Judrėnai graveyard.
JURGIAI is a small village near the settlement of Dovilai. Dovilai became a tourist attraction centre, when Vytautas Majoras (1930–2006), one of the most famous littoral folk artists, set up a homestead and settled down there. The homestead is rich in various sculptures and other different creations. The creative works in his living surroundings is only a small part of V. Majoras’ activities. His works can also be found in many littoral locations.
KARKLĖ village, situated on the coast of the Baltic Sea in the late 15th and the early 16th centuries, is one of the oldest villages and the coastal biggest historic settlements between Klaipėda and Giruliai. Over the centuries Karklė village has preserved its ethnographic originality. It is an ethnic cultural reserve.
The poet S. Šemerys-Šmerauskas (1898 –1981), buried in the village cemetery, was one of the members of the Four Winds Movement. In the South-West of the village there is a unique clay seashore exposure – the famous hill called the Olando Kepurė (Dutchman’s Cap, 24 m above the sea level). It was a good guide for seamen and fishermen. Warning signs for the ships were built on the hill in 1818 and it was marked in the charts. A magnificent panorama of the sea opens from it. But the hill is constantly destroyed by the wash of the waves.
Karklė was first mentioned in 1253. In the 15th century, in order to preserve the road’s Konigsberg-Klaipėda-Ryga safety and normal functioning, pubs, inns, market places were established. In the 16th century, Karklė was one of the largest settlements in the region.
In the 19th century, the village of Karklininkai was established. It occupied the territory incoming Giruliai and Olando Kepurė (Duthman’s cap) towards Nemirseta (about 9 km). It was the longest village in Klaipėda region. The houses were located along the seacoast and every yard had its own access to the sea. From 1778, the village had its primary school. In the beginning of the 19th century, there were 3 elementary schools, 2 inn-hotels. In 1910, the Evangelic Lutheran Church was built in Karklininkai. In the middle of the village the first life-saving station was constructed at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century. Karklė was granted the resort status. In 1926, the village occupied the territory of 1296 ha. In 1954, the part of the village, to the North of the stream Rikinė, went to soldiers. The Soviet Army range was established in that place. The old houses were demolished, Karklė church destroyed, the residents ejected.
KISINIAI, the village located not far from Dovilai, is known for its ethnographic graveyard dating back to 19th–20th centuries. Close to the entrance there is the grave of Johan Ferdinand Kelkis (Kelch, 1801-1887), the originator of Lithuanian periodicals. He came from German family. His parents were peasants and used to live in various places of Minor Lithuania. Step by step he became more and more Lithuanian and he got the name of J. F. Kelkis. After graduation from Theological College in 1820, he was assigned to Įsė (now Pričaliai, Kaliningrad). J. F. Kelkis taught children to write. He also was the editor of Lithuanian newspaper. The top copy appeared in 1832, and it looked more a small-format non-illustrated magazine than a newspaper. It was called “Nusidavimai apie evangelijos praplatinimą tarp žydų ir pagonių“. It was one of the first well-known periodicals in Lithuanian language. The goal of this newspaper was to enlighten missionaries’ activities in distant lands. However, the editor wrote about local topicalities as well – about the persecution of Lithuanian language in East Prussia, bureaucracy, about the facts that lots of priests appointed to Lithuanian villages did not speak Lithuanian. The newspaper was printed in limited (2000 copies) copies. J. F. Kelkis continued editing the newspaper “Nusidavimai”, though, in 1851, he moved to Kretingalė (now Klaipėda district). The first journalistic reportages – about his trip to Berlin, the fire of 1854 in Klaipėda – were published in that newspaper. In 1867, J. F. Kelkis retired because of his disease and settled in Kisiniai, in his daughter’s house. He died and was buried there. Not far from J. F. Kelkis grave you can find Antanas Gelgaudas (1792–1831), the leader of 1831 rebellion, burial-ground. He led the Army, which came from Poland to help the Lithuanian rebels. After losing the battle for Vilnius, A. Gelgaudas and his soldiers retreated through Samogitia towards Prussia, because the way back to Poland was blocked up by Tsarist army. He tried to attack Šiauliai, but unsuccessfully. Discipline in the army worsened, the soldiers were dissatisfied with the commanders. Having no possibilities for further fighting, A. Gelgaudas decided to go to Prussia. They stopped at the border in Šnaukštai village (now Dovilai sub-district). July 13, 1831 number of rebels’ units were located on the border. Most officers were determined to fight against the Tsarist army, but A. Gelgaudas was already in the territory of Prussia. Captain S. Skulskis went via the border and A. Gelgaudas was shot dead as a betrayer. At night the leader’s supporters secretly buried A. Gelgaudas in Kisiniai cemetery. Some time later the monument was erected on his grave.
KLIOŠIAI is a village located nearby Mickai-Lūžgaliai road. In the 19th century, there was founded the Kliošiai Park, occupying the area of 12 ha. It is picturesque like a small wood with winding lanes and pathways. Johan Frydrich Franc Schroder (1829–1906), the publisher and pressman of Minor Lithuania, is buried in Kliošiai Park. After graduating from the Konigsberg University. Johan Frydrich Franc Schroder served as an Evangelic Lutheran priest in Priekulė, he also founded a printing-house and published about 50 Lithuanian books. In 1882–1885, he was the deputy in the Prussian Provintial Parliament. Probably, he had a small estate in Kliošai.
KRETINGALĖ is a settlement located near the river Danė and the railway Klaipėda-Kretinga, 14 km north-eastwards Klaipėda. In 1652, the first Evangelic Lutheran church was built in the settlement. After 80 years the church collapsed. In 1792, a new stony church was constructed. It has been restored several times since 1875. The architecture of the church is quite interesting. The white brick facade has got a red brick square tower with an octagonal top. Lots of educated priests served in that church and they fought for saving Lithuanian language and its printing. In 1850–1869, Johan Ferdinand Kelkis, an originator of Lithuanian periodicals, worked as a teacher in Kretingalė.
PLIKIAI, a settlement by the stream Eketė, an inflow of the river Danė, has been mentioned in annals since the early 18th century. In 1891, a neo-gothic Evangelic Lutheran church was built up. In the corner of its main facade there is a square tower with a high steeple. In 1932, a wooden Catholic church of Saint Family – Jesus, Mary and Joseph, was constructed.
PRIEKULĖ town is situated on the right bank of the river Minija. The architecture, typical for small towns of the littoral, dominates in Priekulė. The town was first mentioned in 1540. Its name derives from landlord Lukas Priekulis, the elder of Paminija. An Evangelic Lutheran church built in 1587 is the oldest one in Klaipėda Region. Lithuanian newspapers and books were being printed in J. F. Schroder printing-house established in Priekulė in1866.
In 1990, a white concrete monument in commemoration of 450th anniversary of Priekulė town was built (sculptor J. Meškelevičius, the resident of Priekulė) in the place of the Evangelic Lutheran church, which was demolished after World War II. Priekulė is not only famous for its printing-house and published Lithuanian books there, but also for its writers. E. Vichert, a famous German writer, worked in Priekulė. However, most frequently the name of Priekulė is associated with the writer I. Simonaitytė. In 1997, the monument (sculptor D. Matulaitė) dedicated to the writer I. Simonaitytė was unveiled in the centre of Priekulė town. Horse sport is popular in Priekulė. Therefore, in the coat-of-arms of this town, which was confirmed only in 2002, a rider on a horse is depicted. At the bottom of this blazon there is a salmon, the queen of fluvial fishes, travelling from the Baltic Sea to spawn in the river Minija. In 2006, Priekulė Fights for Freedom and Exile History Museum was established to memorialize Lithuanian nation’s struggles for freedom. The museum is located in the former German gendarmerie building. From 1946 to 1953, on the ground floor of the main building there used to be collaborators’ headquarters.
On the right bank of the river Veiviržas, near the road to Švėkšna, you will find a big hill covered with gross trees. It is one of the most picturesque mounds in the coastal area – SKOMANTAI. The mound was erected in the first centuries after Christ and it was used until the 13th century. “Žemaitis” – the sculpture of the folk artist V. Majoras (1969) guards these lands.
VANAGAI is a native village of Ieva Simonaitytė (1897–1978), a classic writer of Lithuanian literature. A wooden sculpture was erected in the former homestead of the writer (folk artist V. Majoras). Vanagai is an old settlement. In 1908–1909, a lovely brick Prussian Gothic style Evangelic Lutheran church was built there. Vanagai church was designed and built by architect Tamošaitis (Tamoscheit), who lived in Ragainė. Priest Kristupas Lokys and public figure Jurgis Arnašius are buried in the nearby ethnographic cemetery. It meets a visitor with the quotation “Who are you – I used to be. Who I am – you too will be”.
VEIVIRŽĖNAI is a settlement on the river Veiviržas. The centre of the township, which used to be the old market place, has turned into a green square. The mound on the left bank of the Veiviržis show that people lived in these places in the 3rd–4th centuries. In historic annals Veiviržėnai is first mentioned in the 13th century. The township is situated on the land of the former estate of Trepkalnis. In 1529, Veiviržėnai settlement was governed by I. N. Jurevičius, later it belonged to the royal estate of Rietavas, to the family of the earl Oginskis. In 1751, the trading privileges were conferred to Veiviržėnai and in 1792, it was granted the Magdeburg rights. At the beginning of the 19th century Mykolas Oginskis presented Veiviržėnai to his son Irenėjus, who established the self-governing of peasants with elected elders. The church was built in Veiviržėnai in 1769. In 1791, a wooden chapel-oratory was constructed in the cemetery where the worship is sometimes ministered. In the 18th–19th centuries, this small town was famous for its markets. Three annual market events were usually arranged and they gathered crowds of people. In the years of Independence Veiviržėnai became the centre of the district. In 1932, the monument of Freedom was erected (the author K. Rameika). The bishop G. F. Cirtautas (1841–1913) came from the village of Alsėnai, Veiviržėnai parish. He was the rector of Samogitian priests seminary in Kaunas. In remembrance of this famous person there was a cross erected in his native place.
VĖŽAIČIAI is a settlement situated by the old Samogitian Road, on the rivers Skinija and Gerdauja. Vėžaičiai Manor is mentioned in historic sources from the beginning of the 18th century. One of the first owners of the Manor Temrukas Šimkevičius received Vėžaičiai as a gift from the king – for his bravery. When Šimkevičius family died, the Manor devolved to the counts Volmeriai, who ruled there for about 160 years. Some buildings of the Manor dating back to the 19th–20th centuries remained: the neo-gothic style stables and chapel, built in memory of Edvardas Volmeris. In 1784, Kazimieras Volmeris, the castellan of Gardinas, built a wooden nice church of St. Kazimieras Confessant. His son Leonardas equipped altars and bells there. Pažvelsis village, situated nearby Vėžaičiai, is a motherland of the poet and playwright Juzė of Butkai (1893–1947). The place of his birth is marked by a roof pole (folk artist A. Zuzevičius).