The city of Rēzekne is located in the heart of Latgale, 225 km east of Riga. It is spread out on the banks of the Rēzekne River and Lake Rēzekne (Kovši). As in ancient times, today Rēzekne is an important regional transport hub (it is a crossroads for several railway lines and highways). The city also has an important place in the cultural life of Latgale.
History. Archaeological digs from the 1980s at the Rēzekne hill fort show that the current territory of the city was the site of one of the most ancient Latgalian fortified settlements, inhabited from the mid Iron Age. Rēzekne was first mentioned in historical sources in 1285, when it had become the residence of the Rēzekne administrator of the Livonian Order. Between1264 and 1324, as the Order entrenched itself in the eastern part of the ancient Latgalian lands, it built a stone castle in Rēzekne on the site of the ancient Latvian hill fortress. In the first half of the 15th and 16th centuries the castle was one of the Order’s most important fortifications on the eastern border of Livonia. The administrator of Rēzekne was tasked with observing developments in the lands of Rus and to organize knights in the battle for the surrounding lands. At that time a village was already located by the castle, whose resident merchants had close connections with Riga.
At the start of the Livonian War as the threat of Russian invasion increased, the Order Master was forced to turn for assistance to Polish King Sigismund II Augustus and pledge several castles to him, including Rēzekne. In 1560 a Polish garrison entered the town, but in 1577 it fell into the hands of Ivan the Terrible. The Russian troops strengthened the castle’s fortification system, and for defensive purposes demolished Rēzekne township. However, after the Livonian War the Russians abandoned Rēzekne and it came under the control of the Commonwealth. In the 17th and early 18th centuries, as the struggle for the Livonian inheritance continued the strategically important castle changed hands between the Swedes, Poles and Russians, so that by 1712 nothing remained of it except ruins. Restored in the early 18th century, Rēzekne village was also exceedingly modest, with just 23 houses, a tavern, a few shops and a mill.
In 1773, soon after Latgale’s annexation by Russia, Rēzekne was given a city charter and was made the main district city. In 1778 Czarina Catherine II approved a plan for the reconstruction of Rēzekne, but this was implemented very slowly. The city only started to flourish following the building of several major transport routes crossing the territory of Rēzekne: the St. Petersburg – Warsaw road (1836), the St. Petersburg – Warsaw railway (1861), and later in 1903 the Moscow - Ventspils railway line. Rēzekne became a busy commercial centre. Its residents purchased agricultural produce throughout Latgale and forwarded it for sale to St. Petersburg, Riga and Daugavpils. In 1914 Rēzekne had 22,800 inhabitants.
During World War I several thousand refugees from Kurzeme found shelter here, and this led to the birth of the idea that the Latvians should unite. The first Latgale Latvian Congress was held in Rēzekne in April 1917, at which it was decided to secede from Vitebsk Province and to align the fate of Latgale for all time with Latvia’s other regions - Kurzeme, Vidzeme and Zemgale. During the period of the independent republic Rēzekne group into an important centre of cultural, educational and social life in Latgale.
Places of interest. The most prominent site in Rēzekne is the hill fortress with the ruins of a Livonian Castle. This is located in the centre of the city on an artificial island created digging in a bay of the Rēzekne River. As already mentioned, initially (from the 9th century) this was the site of a fortified ancient Latgalian castle and settlement, which are believed to have existed up to the mid 13th century. Later a field stone Order castle with a large forecastle was built on the site. It had an irregular layout due to the fact that the builders had to work within the natural configuration of the hill surface. The castle was surrounded by a defensive wall with breaches in it which ran around the side of the hill. A description from the end of the 16th century testifies that the buildings in the castle’s territory were arranged close to one another, and that within the forecastle some were built adjacent to the defensive wall while others were freestanding.
The Rēzekne castle ruins attract visitors with their secretive aura, maintained for centuries by myths and legends surrounding the castle and its former residents. According to one legend, Roze, the daughter of the ruler of Volkenberga Castle still lives under the ruins (another story claims that the old name of Rēzekne, Rositten, was derived from her name). Roze is said to sit on a golden throne guarded by two bloodhounds, one with a gold and the other with a silver chain around their necks. Every nine years on Easter night the lady leaves the underworld to visit a young man who could lift a curse from her. This could be achieved by carrying her gold cross to the church and sprinkling it with holy Easter water. However, although many have tried to save Roze, none has succeeded. Typically, if one of the brave rescuers manages to overcome the beasts, monsters and demons that stand in his way, the cross becomes so heavy in his hands that the journey to the church seems to last forever. Every time one of the heroes loses his strength and drops the cross, gentle sobbing has been heard as Roze sinks back into the underworld for the next nine years.
The most impressive sacral church in Rēzekne is the Catholic Sacred Heart of Jesus Church, built between 1888 and 1900 and consecrated in 1914. The masterful use of Gothic forms (realized in the red brick building materials) makes it one of the most beautiful Historicist architectural monuments in the Baltic countries. In the church’s interior, the reliquary from the first half of the 18th century stands out for its high artistic value, which was preserved from an earlier house of worship in Rēzekne.