Latvia’s "southeastern metropolis" Daugavpils is located on the banks of the Daugava, about 220 km from Riga. In terms of population it is the country’s second biggest city. Daugavpils is crossed by five railway lines and six highways , and it has an airport and a shipping dock. In earlier times it was an important and heavily fortified strategic military point. Tourists mainly visit to see the Daugavpils Fortress – a monument of fortification on an Eastern European scale.
History. In 1577, during the Livonian War, Russian forces invading Latgale took the Dinaburg Castle, located on the right bank of the Daugava 19 km upstream from modern Daugavpils. The inhabitants of the village near the castle fled to the area around Lake Šuņezers, where a new town began to form. At the end of the war in 1582, Polish King Stephen Batory rewarded their loyalty by awarding them the charter of the city of Magdeburg, which no other city in Latgale enjoyed.
After the truce concluded that same year between the Russians and Stephen Batory, Daugavpils (then Dinaburg) came under the Commonwealth’s rule. (Administratively it was part of the Duchy of Trans Daugava.) For 20 years the city enjoyed peace, but in 1600 at the start of the Polish-Swedish War Daugavpils was occupied by Duke Charles of Sodermanland. But after seizing a great deal of booty, he returned to Sweden. Since in this war Poland lost all of Vidzeme up to the Aiviekste River, the Polish administration and Jesuit missionaries were forced to relocate to Latgale. The Steward and the missionaries chose Daugavpils as the new Inflantia. In 1630 the Jesuits founded their residence there, and just a year later opened the first school in Latgale.
However, when Russia went to war with Poland over the issue of Ukraine in 1654, (with Sweden also involved), Daugavpils again fell within the war zone. In 1656 the city was occupied, looted and burned down by Russian Czar Alexei Mihailovich. Hoping to keep Daugavpils for all time, the Russians hurriedly renamed it Borisogļebsk. However, in 1667 following the signing of the Treaty of Andrusova, they were forced to leave the city. Latgale, which consisted of the Daugavpils, Ludza and Viļaka steward districts, was annexed to Poland. When in 1677 King Jan Cassimir granted Latgale the status of a Duchy (księstwo Inflanckie), Daugavpils became its capital, the secular and sacral administration centre. In subsequent years the nobility of Latgale held meetings in Daugavpils, and high officials of the Inflantia resided there: vojevods, castellans and others. In 1669 the Jesuit residency also restarted work there, and in 1685 Daugavpils became the seat of the Bishopric of the Inflantia.
The Great Northern War was a major turning point in the city’s fate. One after another Daugavpils felt the boots of Saxon, Russian, Lithuanian and Swedish troops. In 1710 a Russian garrison stationed in the city brought the plague, and over the next few decades Daugavpils suffered numerous floods and fires. The Jesuit residence, workshops, schools and other wooden buildings burned down. In 1737 a new Jesuit cloister and masonry church buildings began to be built in the city, which were completed in 1768.
In 1772 during the First Partition of Poland Latgale together with Daugavpils was annexed to Russia. In order to defend the city they planned to build a strong fortress there. Although the plan was approved in 1778, a government committee continued to discuss the project until it settled on a different plan in 1810. Jesuit properties located on the planned construction site (land, cloister buildings and churches), were purchased. In order to free up the area, city house owners were also forced to sell their land and move a few kilometres further up the Daugava. What is now the historic centre of Daugavpils grew on the new site together with the construction of the fortress (this continued throughout the first half of the 19th century).
In 1826 the main Warsaw-Vienna postal road was moved from Druja to Daugavpils, and the first telegraph line in Russia was completed, which ran through the city. In the second half of the 19th century Daugavpils became an important transport junction: the railway was connected with St. Petersburg in 1860, with Riga in 1861, in 1862 with Warsaw, with Oral in 1866, and with Siauliai in1873. The St. Petersburg-Warsaw highway ran through the city, and in 1862 a shipping route was opened with Vitebsk. Large numbers of railway workshops opened in Daugavpils, and industry, craftsmanship and especially trade developed.
The city suffered heavy losses during World War I. Daugavpils subsequently failed to regain its earlier commercial importance, in large part because the transport routes which had passed through it came under the control of a number of sovereign countries - Latvia, the USSR, Poland and Lithuania.
In the year’s of Latvia’s independence (1918 - 1940), Daugavpils became the main commercial, industrial and crafts centre of Eastern Latvia. A wide range of cultural and educational institutions flourished there. In 1921 a Latvian theatre opened in Daugavpils.
After World War II, industry developed rapidly in the city. The hyper growth of industrialization generated an influx of workers from throughout the USSR, creating a difficult demographic situation whose consequences will still be felt for a long time.
Places of interest. The Daugavpils Fortress is the only remaining example of a 19th century fortress in Eastern Europe to have survived without significant changes. Its construction was begun in 1810 on an earlier fortification site (16th – 18th centuries) in accordance with a plan by the engineer J. Hekel. The construction work was severely hampered by the fact that the fortress was slated or an area of low lying, boggy terrain. In 1811 on the eve of Napoleon’s invasion the developing structure was declared a first class fortress, but it could not play any significant role in 1812.
After the French army was driven out of Russia, the building work recommenced with renewed energy and continued until the mid 19th century, although the fortress was symbolically unveiled as early as 1833. The ensemble comprised Russian Empire style dwelling and ancillary buildings on the inside of the fortress (the project author was the architect Aleksandrs Štauberts), as well as the Jesuit church and adjacent dwelling house surviving from earlier times (18th century). The fortress’s outer, fortified section consisted of an earthen dyke, eight bastions, ravelins, an external defensive wall with a covered road and the Daugava right bank, as well as a fore bridge fortification system on the river’s other bank. Field stones worked by artisans were used in the finishing of the defensive structures.
During World War II the ensemble lost its beautiful Baroque monument, the Jesuit church, but the rest of the aforementioned structures and fortifications can still be seen today.
The historic centre of Daugavpils (Dinaburg) – the former new city – is comprised of an administrative building ensemble built in 1828. - 1830. It is noteworthy that in planning these buildings the architect Aleksandrs Štauberts utilized special exemplary drawings prepared for Russian Empire cities. The former science school building (built 1835 - 1840) at 32 Ģimnāzijas iela is another example if the late Classicist architecture then prevalent throughout Russia.
Permission to build the Daugavpils St. Peter’s Catholic Church, at the request of the local nobility, was only given in 1838, and its construction was completed ten years later. The church’s architectural form, especially its impressive cupola, is reminiscent of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.