Krāslava, one of the most beautiful and most visited towns in the region, is located in the so-called Switzerland of Latgale (about 260 km southeast of Riga), in the area where the foothills of the Eastern Latvian Highland descend closest to the Daugava. Krāslava is sited mainly on the right bank of the river where the Krāslava Stream enters the Daugava (the small left bank section of the town is called Priedaine). Krāslava attracts visitors with its impressive historic and architectural monuments in both the town and its surrounding area.
History. Krāslava was first mentioned in written records in the 14th century. However, the Latgalian hill fortresses (Šokolādes kalns (“Chocolate Hill”), the Krāslava hill fortress etc.), settlement sites and ancient burial grounds within the immediate vicinity of the town testify that this territory by the Daugava trading route had already been inhabited several centuries earlier. For example, a legend has survived that at the end of the 10th century Rogneda the daughter of the Duke of Polock, who later married the ruler of Kiev Vladimir the Holy, lived here.
In the 14th century a fortified Livonian Order goods warehouse was established in Krāslava, but in 1558 it became a manor paying tithes to the Order. In the 16th and 17th centuries the owners of Krāslava changed frequently, but in 1729 the manor was bought by Count Jan Ludwig Plater, and it remained in this family’s hands until World War I. The Platers tried to turn Krāslava into the administrative, spiritual and commercial centre of Latgale.
In 1737 Krāslava was inherited by Inflantia Steward Count Constantine Ludwig Plater (1719 - 1778). In his time, a masonry town hall with a tower and stalls for market sellers were built in the market square. The Platers brought in craftsmen from Warsaw and various German cities, who made Krāslava famous for its gold and silver products, carpets, velvet and wool fabrics, weapons etc. In 1808, when construction of the fortress had begun in Daugavpils, the administrative bodies of Latgale were moved to Krāslava (although only until 1822). But the village’s earlier glory began to fade, especially after the fire of 1826. Krāslava began to rejuvenate in 1865, when a station of the Daugavpils - Vitebsk railway was opened nearby. However, in 1893 the village suffered another fire.
Before World War I, Krāslava with its 10,500 inhabitants was the second largest village in Latvia. It was granted a town charter in 1923.
Places of interest. Krāslava Castle and its artificial terraces rises above the town on the steep banks of the old Daugava River course. Its construction was started by Count Constantine Ludwig Plater, and it was completed in 1791 by his son August Hyacinth Plater. This two-story masonry castle with a French roof and unusual diadem-form pediments in its risalits developed under the influence of the Saxon Baroque, which is believed to have reached Latgale via Poland. Only fragments of the castle have survived up to the present. However, recently uncovered wall frescoes (figurative compositions as well as panels with Roman landscapes) testify that highly professional artists worked here.
Restricted on all sides, the castle’s parade courtyard creates a reserved impression, while the other side of the structure affords sweeping views over the terrace-type park of the old Daugava River course and the river’s blue waters, ancient hill fortresses and the town on the sloping bank.
To the east of this so-called new castle on the banks of the Krāslava Stream is the old castle, commonly referred to as the library building. This small, attractive three-story structure was built by Count Constantine Ludwig Plater for his son Theofil, a Knight of the Order of Malta (the construction of the castle was completed in 1759). Later the Counts Plater established their library in the castle, which remained there up to World War I. The exterior form of the castle has much in common with the Rococo style highly popular for small hotels and castles in mid 18th century Europe. A baroque linden tree garden was planted near the structure, traces of which can still be found today.
On the other side of the Krāslava Stream on the second highest foothill within the city’s territory is clustered Krāslava’s ensemble of sacred buildings. The monumental St. Ludwig’s Catholic Church is especially prominent amongst them. This was originally intended to be the Cathedral of the Inflantia Bishopric (the broad presbytery intended for bishop’s services and the canonic pews along the walls of the presbytery are reminders in the church of this plan), but in 1774 it was consecrated merely as a parish church. The structure was designed by the Genovese architect Antonio Paroko. However, in the course of construction his plans were not fully realized, in that two towers planned for the edges of the façade were not built. For this reason, the church tends to be categorized as a three-space basilica type structure and analytical comparisons are made with the well-known Il Gesu Church in Rome.
In the early 19th century a vault was built on the structure’s southern side with funds donated by Countess Augusta Plater (1727 - 1791), in which the remains of the martyr St. Donat and other relics were placed.
Upon entering the church, the visitor is confronted by the altar standing between two mighty pillars, whose central section is comprised by the grandiose “St. Ludwig going off to the Crusades.” His masterpiece was painted in 1884 by T. Lisjevičs based on sketches by the outstanding Polish artist Jan Matejko (1838 - 1892). The church can also boast two other valuable paintings: portraits of its patrons Count Constantine Ludwig Plater and Augusta Plater (18th century), created under the influence of French painting of the time.
The mid 18th century seminary building (this two-storey masonry structure was initially planned as the bishop’s residence) rises alongside the church. In 1795 Lazarian or Missionary Order monks became residents here, under whose guidance priests were trained for the needs of Latgale and Belarus. In 1843 the seminary was moved from Krāslava to Mogiļev, and later to St. Petersburg.