Druskininkai (Друскенікі, Druskieniki; Druskieniki) is a spa town on the Neman River in southern Lithuania, close to the borders of Belarus and Poland. The city of Druskininkai has a population of 18,233 (2001 Census) and dates back as a spa resort to the 19th century.
The town is located at the Ratnyčia River estuary to the Nemunas River and is surrounded by a natural forest reserve. The town is situated in a picturesque landscape with rivers, lakes, hills and forests.
According to some sources the site of the present-day Druskininkai was inhabitated by local Yotvingian tribes in the early Middle Ages. In the 13th century the area was conquered by Lithuanians. A small castle was built in the area as a part of the defence system against the Teutonic Order. The castle was conquered by Teutonic Knights and destroyed in 1308 after which the area was soon depopulated.
The first mention of the present-day Druskininkai dates back to 1636. The name comes from Lithuanian root druska meaning salt which suggests that the local population collected the precious mineral. In the late 18th century it was discovered that minerals found in the waters of Druskininkai area are healthy and their usage in medical treatment of asthma started. In the early 19th century Ignacy Fonberger, the University of Vilnius professor, focused on the analysis of the chemical composition of Druskininkai waters and discovered that they contain large amounts of Calcium, Sodium, Potassium, Iodine, Bromine, Iron and Magnesium. He also promoted the town as a holiday resort for the population of what is now Vilnius.
In 1837 czar Nicholas I of Russia bestowed on Druskininkai the status of spa, and construction of wooden pensions and hostels started. To ease communication with the spa, a ferry service on Nemunas was started .
The spa became popular among other parts of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. In 1862 a railway line linking Warsaw and Saint Petersburg was opened and its station was placed only 19 km from the city. By the beginning of the 20th century Druskininkai spa resort became one of the most popular resorts in the area, with tourists and reconvalescents coming from all over the world. It also became a place of summer residence for the middle class of Vilnius, Warsaw and Moscow.
After the World War I the town became part of Poland (see Polish-Lithuanian conflict) and soon became one of the three most popular Polish resorts. Its popularity was increased by Józef Piłsudski, who spent most of his summer holidays there and promoted development of the area. Soon most of the resort was bought by state-owned Bank Gospodarstwa Krajowego and construction of luxurious villas and pensions started. In 1934 a railway link with the Porzecze train station was opened and the town became opened to the general public.
After the Soviet aggression in 1939 and a staged "referendum", the town was incorporated into the Belarusian SSR. In 1940 Druskininkai were transferred to the Lithuanian SSR. Starting with 1951, it began to grow rapidly and several huge sanatoriums and spa hospitals were opened. The city became a famous resort, attracting around 400,000 visitors per year from all over the Soviet Union.
The collapse of the Soviet Union was followed by economical difficulties faced by Lithuania and some of its resorts, lacking their usual visitors. In 2001 unemployment reached 29% in Druskininkai. During the last few years, Druskininkai began a fast revival. Sanatoriums, spas and the city's infrastructure began to be renovated both by the local government and privately-owned businesses. The numbers of visitors and tourists from Lithuania, Poland, Russia and Israel increase every year .
Nowadays, approximately 30 different illnesses are treated in Druskininkai . Despite demolitions during the World War I, the city features houses and villas reflecting all periods of its development - Russian, Polish and modern.
There are a number of art and historical museums and galleries in the city. Many cultural events take place, most of them during spring, summer and fall.
An annual poetry event, "Druskininkai poetic fall", began in 1985 and attracts authors from all over the world. In 2001, Grūtas park was opened near Druskininkai, exposing sculptures and other materials of the Soviet era.