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Neman river

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Neman river

"Nieman" and "Niemen" redirect here. For other uses, see Nieman (disambiguation).
This article is about the river called Memel in German. For the city of this name, see Klaipėda.
Origin Belarus, 45 km south of Minsk
Mouth Curonian Lagoon (Baltic Sea)
Basin countries Belarus, Lithuania, Kaliningrad Oblast (Russia), Poland
Length 914 km (568 mi)
Source elevation 176  m (577  ft)
Avg. discharge 616  m³/s (21 757  ft³/s)
Basin area 98 000  km² (37 838  mi²)

Neman, Nemunas, Nyoman or Niemen[1] is a major Eastern European river rising in Belarus and flowing through Lithuania before draining into the Curonian Lagoon and then into the Baltic Sea at Klaipėda. It begins at the confluence of two smaller tributaries (map coordinates 53.348194,27.108378), about 10 miles southwest of the town of Uzda in central Belarus and about 35 miles southwest of the city of Minsk. In its lower reaches, it forms the border between Lithuania and Russia's Kaliningrad Oblast. It also very briefly forms part of the border between Lithuania and Belarus. The 14th largest river in Europe, the largest in Lithuania and the third largest in Belarus, it is navigable for most of its 900-kilometer length.

The Neman/Nemunas River basin was formed during the Quaternary period, and is located roughly along the edge of the last glacial sheet, dating from about 25,000 – 22,000 years BP (before present). Its depth varies from one meter in its upper courses to five meters in the lower basin.

Largest settlements on the river

West to east: Sovetsk/Tilsit, Neman/Ragnit, Kaunas, Alytus, Druskininkai/Druskienniki, Hrodna/Grodno (Gardinas), and Masty/Mosty.

Neman by numbers

  • The total length of the Nemunas/Neman is 914 km (568 mi).[2] It is the 14th longest river in Europe and the 4th longest in the Baltic Sea basin. Over its entire length, 436 km (271 mi) flows in Belarus[2] and 359 km (223 mi) in Lithuania. A 116 - kilometer stretch is the border between Lithuania and Russia's Kaliningrad oblast.
  • Its greatest depth is five meters (16.4 ft), and at its widest it extends about 500 meters (1640 feet).
  • The Nemunas/Neman is a slow river; it flows at about one to two meters/second.
  • During floods, water discharge can increase up to 11-fold, to more than 6,800 m³/s. Severe floods occur on the lower reaches of the river about every 12 – 15 years, which sometimes wash out bridges.[3]
  • The Nemunas/Neman is an old river, dating back to the last glacial period. Its valley is now up to 60 meters deep and five kilometers broad.
  • It has about 105 first-class tributaries, the largest being the rivers Neris (Viliya) (510 km/317 miles), Shchara (325 km/202 miles), and Šešupė (298 km/185 miles). Fifteen of the tributaries are longer than 100 km (62 mi).
  • In the complete Nemunas/Neman basin, there are tributaries extending to the 11th order.
  • The Nemunas basin in Lithuania drains more than 20,000 rivers and rivulets and covers 72% of Lithuania's territory.
  • The total area of the Nemunas/Neman basin is 98,200 square kilometres (37,900 sq mi),[2] 34,610 square kilometres (13,360 sq mi) of which are within Belarus,[2] the Lithuanian portion of this basin is 46,695 square kilometers.
  • Valley of Neman in Grodno Region is the lowest point above sea level in Belarus (80–90 meters).[4]

Significance in culture

The river has lent its name to a Neolithic subculture; originally based on hunting, fishing, and gathering, its inhabitants gradually adopted domesticated plants and animals.[5]

In [3].

The border between the State of the Teutonic Order and Lithuania was fixed in 1422 by the Treaty of Lake Melno and remained stable for centuries. The Treaty of Tilsit between Napoleon and Czar Alexander I was signed on a raft in the river in 1807. Napoleon's crossing at the outset of the 1812 French invasion of Russia is described in War and Peace.[6] In 1919, the Treaty of Versailles made the river the border separating the Memel Territory from German East Prussia as of 1920. At that time, Germany's Weimar Republic adopted the Deutschlandlied as its official national anthem. In the first stanza of the song, written in 1841, the river is mentioned as the eastern border of a (then politically yet-to-be united) Germany:

German lyrics Approximate English translation
Von der Maas bis an die Memel,
Von der Etsch bis an den Belt
From the Meuse to the Memel,
From the Adige to the Belt

Lithuanians refer to the Nemunas as "the father of rivers" (Nemunas is a masculine noun in Lithuania). Countless companies and organizations in Lithuania have "Nemunas" in their name, including a folklore ensemble, a weekly magazine about art and culture, a sanatorium, and numerous guest houses and hotels. Lithuanian and Polish literature often mention the Nemunas. One of the most famous poems by Maironis starts:

Lithuanian lyrics Approximate English translation
Kur bėga Šešupė, kur Nemunas teka Where the Šešupė runs, where the Nemunas flows
Tai mūsų tėvynė, graži Lietuva That's our fatherland, beautiful Lithuania

Almost every Lithuanian can recite these words by heart. It is so well known that it is treated as an unofficial national anthem.

There are many other smaller rivers and rivulets in Lithuania with names that may have been derived from "Nemunas" - Nemunykštis, Nemuniukas, Nemunynas, Nemunėlis, Nemunaitis. The etymology of the name is disputed: some say that "Nemunas" is an old word meaning "a damp place," while other say that "Nemunas" was a god in Baltic mythology. Art critics praised its depiction in the paintings by Michał Kulesza.[7][8]

Nemunas/Neman loops

Since the loops are located in Lithuania, they are often referred to as "The Nemunas loops".

In 1992 Nemunas Loops Regional Park was founded. Its goal is to preserve the loops (Lithuanian: vingis) that the Nemunas makes in the Punia forest. Near Prienai, the Nemunas makes a 17-km long loop (like a teardrop) coming within 1.2 km of completing the loop. The Nemunas flows along the double bend between Balbieriškis and Birštonas for 48 kilometers and then moves in a northerly direction for only 4.5 kilometers. The loops are not conventional river meanders; they follow underlying tectonic structures. The faults are the source of the mineral springs in the area.[9] The area is historically and culturally significant. Its castles served as the first line of defense against forays by the Teutonic knights.


Main article: Nemunas Delta

At its delta the Nemunas splits into a maze of river branches and canals mixing with polders and wetlands and is a very attractive destination for eco-tourism. The four main distributaries are Atmata, Pakalnė, Skirvytė and Gilija. The river plays a crucial part in the ecosystem of the Curonian Lagoon. It provides the main water inflow to the lagoon and keeps the water almost fresh. This allows both fresh water and mixed water animals to survive there. As the river's delta expands, the lagoon shrinks. Since the delta is located in Lithuania, it is often referred to as Nemunas Delta. Nemunas Delta Regional Park was created in the delta in 1992.


The Nemunas/Neman tributaries are: the rivers Neris, the Shchara, and the Šešupė, Svislach, Nevėžis River, Dubysa, Jūra, Minija, Western Berezina, Zelvyanka, Molchad, Roś, Servech, Losha, Gorodnichanka and others.

Economic significance

The Nemunas River is used for a variety of purposes such as fishing, hydropower generation, water supply, industry, and agriculture, as well as recreation, tourism, and water transport. There have been proposals to deepen its watercourse below Kaunas to make it more consistently usable.[10]

The largest cities on the river are Hrodna in Belarus, Alytus and Kaunas in Lithuania, and Sovetsk in the Kaliningrad Oblast of Russia. The river basin has a population of 5.4 million inhabitants. Industrial activities in the Belarussian section include metal processing, chemical industries, pulp and paper production, and manufacturing of building materials, as well as food-processing plants. In Lithuania, the city of Kaunas, with about 400,000 inhabitants, is the country's principal user of the river; the local industries that impact the river are hydropower generation, machinery, chemical, wood processing and paper production, furniture production, textile and food-processing. In Kaliningrad, industrial centers near the river include Sovetsk and Neman, which have large pulp and paper production facilities.

Above Kaunas a dam was built in 1959 to serve the Kaunas Hydroelectric Power Plant. The resulting Kaunas Reservoir (Lithuanian: Kauno marios) is the largest such lake in Lithuania. It occupies 63.5 km2 (24.5 sq mi); its length is 93 km (58 mi); its greatest depth is 22 m (72 feet). The reservoir is a popular destination for Lithuanian yachting.

The Augustów Canal, built in the 19th century, connects the Neman to the Vistula River.

Biological communities

The following fish have been found in the Nemunas/Neman River: perch, pike, zander, roach, tench, bream, rudd, ruffe, and bleak. Its tributaries also contain stone loach, the three-spined stickleback, minnows, trout, sculpins, gudgeon, dace and chub.

Atlantic salmon formerly migrated upstream to spawn; however, dam constructions on the river, most of which took place during the 20th century, has reduced their numbers considerably. The dam at Kaunas does not provide fish ladders. The spawning season took place in the fall; ethnographic studies of the time report that night fishing, using torches and harpoons, was a common technique.

Environmental issues

A report by the Swedish EPA (Environmental Protection Administration) rates the quality of the Nemunas in Lithuania as moderately polluted or polluted. High concentrations of organic pollutants, nitrates and phosphates occur in different parts of the river. Environmental issues include water quality (eutrophication and pollutants), changes in the hydrological regime, and flooding control. The environmental problems in each of the countries that make up the basin are slightly different. In Belarus, the main problems are oil products as well as nitrogen and BOD (biological oxygen demand). The environmental issues in the Kaliningrad section include high concentrations of BOD, lignosulphates, and nitrogen. In Lithuania, the operations of the Kaunas Hydroelectric Power Plant cause changes of the water level that affect the riparian ecosystem. Old wastewater treatment facilities along the entire river also contribute to pollution.[11]

The co-operation necessary to ensure the health of the river is complicated by the political divisions in the basin - its territory is shared among Russia, Belarus and the European Union country of Lithuania. Several co-operation initiatives are underway to address the environmental issues of the river.

See also


External links

  • (Polish) Geographical Dictionary of the Kingdom of Poland (1886)
  • (English) Glaciation in Lithuania
  • (English) Biotopes in the Neman and its tributaries
  • (English) Atlantic salmon in the Neman River

Coordinates: 55°15′40″N 21°18′24″E / 55.26111°N 21.30667°E / 55.26111; 21.30667

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