Pagėgiai municipality

  Administrative centre – Pagėgiai
  Area – 537 km² (12.2 % of the county’s area)
  Population – 11 399 (8.9 % of the county’s population)
  Wards – Lumpėnai, Natkiškiai, Pagėgiai, Stoniškiai, Vilkyškiai

Pagėgiai municipality is situated in the western part of Tauragė county, by the Nemunas. The largest part of the municipality is covered by the Karšuva Lowland. The region has no big towns. Pagėgiai municipality is the smallest in Tauragė county. In the southern part of the region, there is the beginning of the Nemunas Delta. There is the Gėgė River with tributaries. The entire lowland is striped with cut-off river bends and covered with deep lakes – Velnežeris, Bitežeris, Kurmežeris, Oplankis and others. Soils are mainly sandy brown. The percentage of forest area is low; larger forests are those of Dinkiai, Pagėgiai, Mikytai, Rambynas. Agricultural land makes up 70.5 %, forests – 16.7 %, roads – 2.5 %, built-up area – 2.6 %, water bodies – 3.7 %, other land – 4 % of the municipality.

There are two towns (Pagėgiai and Panemunė) and one township (Vilkyškiai). The administrative centre of the municipality – Pagėgiai – is situated on a plain, located higher than the periodically flooded Nemunas valley, near a pinewood protecting it from western winds. It was the capital of the tribe of the Scalovians, or Scalvians (skalviai). In written sources, Pagėgiai was for the first time mentioned in 1307 – in one of the acts of the Scalovians (namely in the act on the recording of land and granting of privileges issued by the Master of Prussia Heinrich von Plötzke in Karaliaučius (Königsberg)). Possibilities for Pagėgiai to develop opened up in 1850, when the new Tilžė–Klaipėda road had been laid.  However, life became more intense in 1875, after the construction of a railway line Tilžė–Klaipėda. In 1904, trains were already going to Smalininkai, Lauksargiai and Šiauliai. Pagėgiai became a large traffic centre. In 1923, when Pagėgiai was joined to Lithuania, it was granted city rights; up to 1950, Pagėgiai was a county, while in 1950–1962 – district centre.

The location of the municipality is strategically favourable – it is a frontier of the European Union. The municipality is located at a convenient intersection of railways (to Klaipėda, Šiauliai, Kaliningrad) and roads (to Klaipėda, Kaunas, Kaliningrad). Pagėgiai municipality is crossed by the European Via Hansa. Currently it is mostly a region of agriculture, where organic farming and production is developed. It is also a region of well-developed transport and food industry. The southern border of the municipality is separated from Kaliningrad Region by a 40 km long segment of the Nemunas, which allows developing inland navigation, establishing ports.

Many tourists preferring active recreation, fishermen and hunters are attracted by the rivers of Nemunas and Jūra and their basins, Kulmena dam in Kentriai, Oplankis Lake and a cut-off Nemunas river bend in Kucai suitable both for fishing and recreation. Vilkyškiai ward, characterised by secure localities, which are really worth visiting, is particularly attractive for historical and cognitive tourism. The centre of the ward – Vilkyškiai township, located in the centre of the Vilkyškiai chain of hills. The old part of the township is a monument to urban development; there are many extant buildings of the end of the 19th–beginning of the 20th century.

There is the Rambynas Regional Park – one of the representative protected areas of Lithuania Minor, covering the Vilkyškiai chain of hills and water-meadows of the Nemunas valley. In the six reserves situated in the park, the great treasures of the park – the landscape of the Nemunas valley, water-meadows with characteristic flora, Rambynas Hill (with Midsummer Day (Joninės) festivals organised there since the 19th century), Bitėnai and Bardėnai villages, which have preserved the unity of nature and culture, the expressive peak of the Vilkyškiai chain of hills, and others – are preserved. The history of Pagėgiai region as a part of the historical region of the north Skalva is closely related to that of Lithuania Minor. In the years of the ban on the Lithuanian press (1864–1904), the main ways of book-smugglers (book spreaders; so-called knygnešiai) went through Pagėgiai region, bordering on Lithuania Proper in the east. Near the Rambynas Hill, in Bitėnai village, there lived a personality of Lithuania Minor Martynas Jankus. In the years of the ban on the press, he had established a printing house, where he was printing Lithuanian newspapers and books. Today the only museum in the municipality functions there.

From time immemorial, Pagėgiai region has been famous for its Trakehner (trakėnai) horse breed (the stud farm was established by the Prussian king in 1732). By the number of horses and land area (land area – 734 ha, of which 661 ha – agricultural land), the Nemunas stud farm is the biggest in Lithuania. Enthusiasts of equestrian sport from many countries show interest in the stud farm and buy horses. There is also an equestrian sports class in the Pagėgiai additional training school at the stud farm, where children are taught to ride. Horses may also be hired for recreational riding.