The Pūsēni Hill – the highest coastal dune in Latvia, which offers a fantastic view over the treetops to the Baltic Sea. To enjoy it, it is worth bringing your own drink and a picnic snack. The Walking Trail is 1.3 km long, with stairs at the steeper points.
Hill or dune?
It is a dune by origin, but locals have always called it a hill, as there are few high places here. The Pūsēni Hill is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the territory of the nature park “Bernāti” and is a protected natural monument. It has an absolute height of 3 metres, a relative height of 29 metres on the quarry side, and up to 31 metres on the northern and eastern sides.
Sand buries about 80 houses
The hill was formed between 1785 and 1835, when, after deforestation, a fire caused quicksand to bury about 80 farmsteads, including the Pūsēni house, where the forester’s family lived at the time. The dune is named after this house. As far as is known, the Pūsēni family moved to live elsewhere.
To stop the destructive sand movement, serious dune strengthening works were carried out. Planting bushes and sowing grass did not help, so a special project was developed. In the winter of 1836/37, 400 men came to work: they covered the dunes with a reinforced layer of sticks, the dune cliffs were surrounded by a 5-foot-high fence of 32 versts. 700 farmers from Rucava and Nīca parishes, as well as people of private estates, contributed materials for cheap money. In addition to the sticks above the sand cliffs, there were put reeds from the Lakes Liepaja and Pape, as well as sea droppings. The covered areas were planted with bushes and trees and sown with grass seeds. A total of 242,000 new trees were planted.
Silicate Valley during the Soviet time
During the Soviet era, the Pūsēnu Hill was used as a sand extraction site and a quarry was established, but the top of the dune remained untouched.
In the late 1950s, Latvia experienced a real construction boom. Liepaja and its surroundings, which suffered badly after the war, are also being restored. New factories are being built at a rapid pace, and the large influx of workers required housing. To meet the huge demand for building materials, the Liepāja Silicate Brick Factory was opened in 1959. The white sand needed for production came from the nearby coastal dunes. Several seaside quarries were being built south of the city.
The greatest impact of these works had been in the vicinity of Pērkone, because of which none of the high dunes once so characteristic of the area survived. When the resources there ended, extraction sites were also set up in Bernāti. Five years of plans and the relentless need for the 3.5 kg white cube are the basis for the creation of the kilometre-long Silicate Valley.
Finally, there came a time when, in 1970, the factory decided to take sand from the Pūsēni hill. Before the diggers are sent to the dune, geologists conclude that the Pūsēni sand would last for several years and that the raw material itself is of good quality. In the early 1970s, the factory could produce 24 million bricks per year. The local newspaper informs: “By organizing a work guard in honor of Lenin’s 100th birthday, the people from Liepaja Silicate Brick factory made a socialist commitment to fulfill the four-month plan by April 22. On April 17, workshop workers reported on the execution of the plan. Builders received 7.71 million silicate
bricks. “* However, a little later, the press reports “…it would no longer be possible to meet demand at current capacity. It would need 50 to 80 million.” ** In life, this means that such a volume would require at least 100,000 m³ of sand. The consequences of the increase in production, however, wew negative. More often there was a discarded brick. The reasons are different: incompetence of factory workers, haste, poor-quality equipment of the factory, due to which the final product was of varied sizes and weights. Due to the high demand, builders used to return bricks uncooled to the end, and they crumble when transported. All this is the reason, even today, there is still scepticism when it comes to the building material known as Soviet-era silicate brick. The problem is not just the quality of the brick.
The acquisition of the dune continued for several years until people realized that irreversible damage to nature was being caused. We should thank the nature activists. Local journalists also played a significant role, with an increasing number of untypical, critical articles on the subject.
Finally, in the early eighties, the excavation of sand was stopped altogether.
The 25 cm long, 12 cm wide, 6.5 cm thick silicate brick was 90 % white sand (the remaining 10 % limestone and other binding agents).
Digging by the sea continued for more than 20 years. Paradoxically, the beautiful dunes of the Baltic Sea were the reason for the creation of some of the most aesthetic buildings in the country. Those were the times. The dune sands were transformed into five-storey buildings on Vītolu Street in Liepāja, into collective farm administration buildings and farms, perhaps even into your own private home.
Climb the Pūsēni HIll!
We can only comfort you that a part of the legendary Pūsēni dune can be found today in almost all of Latvia. But if you’re right here in Bernāti, go and climb the Pūsēni Hill. It is just around the corner!
* newspaper “Communist” (1970 April18)
** Newspaper “Communist” (1970 November 10)