The Vistula Spit (Polish: Mierzeja Wiślana; Russian: Балтийская коса; German: Frische Nehrung) is an aeolian sand spit, or peninsular stretch of land that separates Vistula Lagoon from Gdańsk Bay, in the Baltic Sea, with its tip separated from the mainland by the Strait of Baltiysk. The border between Poland (Pomeranian Voivodeship) and Kaliningrad Oblast, a semi-exclave of Russia, bisects it, politically dividing the spit in half between the two countries. The westernmost geographical point of Russia is located on the Vistula Spit. The Polish part contains a number of tourist resorts, incorporated administratively as the town of Krynica Morska.
Situated in the Gdańsk Bay this narrow headland (spit) is on average only few hundred meters wide (widest point is 1.8 km (1.1 mi)) and with the total length of 70 km (43 mi) twice as long as the better known and more populous Hel Peninsula in the western part of the Gdańsk Bay. The Vistula Spit streches in a north-easterly direction and separates the Vistula Lagoon from the southern Baltic Sea. It is separated from the Sambia Peninsula by the Strait of Baltiysk. The spit consists of 10 to 12 meter high marine sand, accumulated during three dune generations. The highest peaks of the Vistula Spit are Wielbłądzi Grzbiet (49.5 m, 162 ft) on the Polish side of the peninsula and the imposing 25 m (82 ft) high shifting sand dune of Narmeln on the Russian side of the border.
The border between Poland (Pomeranian Voivodeship) and Russia (Kaliningrad Oblast) runs across the spit, with its south-western part in Poland and the north-eastern part in Russia. The Polish part includes, from west to east, the villages of Kąty Rybackie, Skowronki, and the town of Krynica Morska, the largest locality on the Polish side, and a popular tourist destination. Since 1991, Krynica Morska includes in its municipal borders formerly separate villages of Przebrno and Nowa Karczma, the latter being the easternmost inhabited locality on the Polish side of the Spit.
The Russian part of the Vistula Spit is only inhabited in its northernmost part, which belongs to the port town of Baltiysk and lies on the southern side of the Strait of Baltiysk. The Russian airbase Noytif (originally built as a German Luftwaffe airbase Neu Tief) is located there and inhabited by around 1,000 people and personel. It can be reached by ferry from the Baltiysk core area on the other side of the Strait.
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Until the 13th century, the spit had navigable straits in the middle, which allowed the city of Elbing, part of the monastic State of the Teutonic Knights, direct access to the Baltic Sea. The natural closing of the straits in the late 13th century reduced Elbing's status as an important trading seaport. This and the Teutonic takeover of Danzig (Gdańsk) and Polish Pomerania in 1308 led to the increased importance of Gdańsk.
During World War II, it became the last holdout of the remaining German soldiers in East Prussia, although the Soviets simply bypassed the spit after the East Prussian Offensive was decisively concluded, training their sights on the more important goal of capturing Berlin. The last Wehrmacht soldiers laid down their arms after the German Instrument of Surrender was signed.
Historically Vistula Spit was populated by Kursenieki people (also known as Kuršininkai), an Old Prussian tribe, related to modern day Latvians. This nearly extinct Baltic ethnic group once made Vistula Spit, costal zone of the Sambia Peninsula, and Curonian Spit their home. In 1649 Kuršininkai zone of settlement still spanned all the way from Memel (Klaipėda) to Danzig (Gdańsk) encompassing narrow littoral strip of territory best suitable for their lifestyle, cultural preferences and dominant economic activity (fishing). Majority of Kuršininkai were eventually assimilated by the Germans. Only on the Curonian Spit few scattered rural settlements survive to the present day. The Kuršininkai were considered Latvians until after World War I when Latvia gained independence from the Russian Empire, a consideration based on linguistic arguments. This was also the rationale for Latvian claims over the Curonian Spit, Memel, and other territories of East Prussia in the aftermath of the WWI. Those claims would be later dropped.
The Polish side of the peninsula is accessible using Voivodeship road 501. There is at present (2016) no border crossing between Poland and Russia on the peninsula.
In 2019, the Polish government started the building of a ship canal across the peninsula, which will permit ships to enter the Vistula Lagoon and the port of Elbląg, bypassing the current transit route through the Russian Strait of Baltiysk.
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