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Rēzekne, Latvia in the past

4923 Views 1 Reply 1 Participant Last post by  anjansons
Rēzekne is a town of about 32 000 people in the Eastern part of Latvia, Latgale region. Latgale is distinct with having its own dialect of Latvian (many people in Latgale also call it Latgalian language). It is considered to be the spiritual and political center of Latgale region and the town is located just about 50 km from the border with Russia.

In summer I am planning to show today's Rēzekne a bit more here, but for now I wanted to show what was Rēzekne like in the previous two centuries. It's not the most beautiful town concerning architecture in Latvia, nor it's in top three or even top 5. It's not particularly big or with grand past, but it's a center of a region of which it becomes prouder each day now. The only things from statistics that can be mentioned is that it's 2nd town in Latvia (after Riga) per population density within city limits, it has nr.1 unemployment in Latvia among bigger towns and that once it was the capital of Latvian SSR (tough not sure this is an achivement :lol:). Of course, as I mentioned, it is also the cultural and political center of Latgale region that makes the town distinct.

It is also my original hometown, which is the main reason why I created this thread. Photos mainly from,,

Rēzekne was first mentioned in written sources in 1285 when the Germanic Livonian Order castle of Rossiten was built on one of today's town's hills. However, the little settlement really didn't take off until mid 19th century when Warszaw- Petersburg road and railway lines were built that crossed the town.

Old Petersburg road, now the main street of Rēzekne, Atbrīvošanas aleja. Some time before 20th century.

After the road and railway lines were built (another railway line, Windau (Ventspils)- Moscow), Rēzekne started to grow, however firstly it grew with traders, mostly of Jewish descent. At the height of Jewish times in what was called Rezhytsa at the time, there were several Jewish sinagogues in the town.

Green Sinagogue, still survives till modern days although in bad condition. Luckily restauration of it has started. It was built in 1845, as the railway and the road brought to town many new people. It was renovated in 1939 and the last smaller renovation was in 1970s... Now it's a ruin but it will change soon :)

At first the modern center of Rēzekne (Petersburg road/Atbrīvošanas aleja) was sparsely populated, but it was mainly Christian district (Latvians and Russians), the old center of the town below was inhabited mostly by Jewish people

The 1285 castle's glory days came to past with the invention of gunpowder/ cannon ball.... sometime in the 17th century, thanks to very competent (apparently) Swedish artillery.

Together with the Warszaw-Petersburg road, new Postal Service building was built in the 19th century next to the road. Sadly, gone in the World War II bombings. At that time it could be considered the center of the town, as usually Postal Service was located in the center of the city. However, at that time it was located on the very outskirts of the town. Later on, a building for Traders was built on the other side of the road and an Orthodox church a bit further.

In 1917 1st Latgalian Congress convened in Rezekne during which it was decided that Latgale was to join Latvia, keeping cultural autonomy. This autonomy was observed until 1934 coup when authoritarian president Kārlis Ulmanis came to power in Latvia. After that it was quickly forgotten. Nowadays there exist only some tiny semblance of it.

During the independence 1918 (Rezekne was liberated from Soviet Union only in 1920 though)-1940 the town grew.

School of Commerce- destroyed in WW2

Teacher's Institute (Now Rezekne Higher Education Institution)

However, Rēzekne was lacking a monument that would honour the decision of Latgalian people to be part of Latvia, therefore people donated money and monument "Vienoti Latvijai'' (United for Latvia) was built in 1939. In the background, old Rezekne Municipality Building.

Previously some weird sh** was going on in that place. Below a massive farmer's festival for grass mowers (in that time common folk still mowed with a scythe and you can see some people with scythes there). Ulmanis was authoritarian president and although the biggest punishment to opposition or critics that he gave was just a few months in a jail and he did not kill people, he still loved the shenanigans of other people with illusions of grandeur. This looks really grotesque, clearly the guy who created it was inspired by some Gothic German impressionism...

There was still some money left, so for this money Atbrīvošanas aleja was restaured, this concrete foundation laid then only finally replaced in recent Atbrīvošanas aleja renovation work, after some 70 years. Also asphalt bicycle paths were made along the street and thus came what local press called ''the best street in Latgale''. I believe after the recent renovation it still holds the title :), despite Daugavpils that then was and still is a bigger city.

The end of Atbrīvošanas aleja, where it meets the main street of ''old Rēzekne'', Latgales street in 1930s. Bridge- sadly gone in WW2.

In 1940 Soviets came and occupied Latvia. They took down "Vienoti Latvijai'' monument quickly. It was found and put in place again, during German occupation in 1943, where it stood to witness the ruin of 1944 bombings. My grandmother comes from countryside, some 30 kilometres from Rēzekne and she said that she saw with her own eyes the giant fire and bombs in the faraway town. It's hard to imagine how Rēzekne's inhabitants felt and listening to ones grandparents you quickly understand that there's no glory and thrill in war...

The monument and churches survived the bombing, perhaps they were not targeted as the main focus was warehouses full of provisions left in hurry, railway and communications. Or perhaps people feared God a bit.

Eventually ''Vienoti Latvijai'' monument was still destroyed in 1950. In place of it a post with state radio transmitter on it was placed that ran all day (oh Stalinism!). After that, for a time being there was nothing, except a small park. I kinda like it in pictures. They also built a new City Municipality building in the place of the old one

Later of V.I. Lenin, the father of the revolution was placed there

Sadly for Lenin, he was removed shortly after Latvia regained independence. ''Vienoti Latvijai'' was created anew and placed in the center of the square in 1992.

New Department Store was built in the 50s and the old Latgale street remained in cobblestone until 1960s when the increasing use of cars and general thinking of ''progress'' at the time deemed it necessary to lay asphalt in the town everywhere.

Rēzekne in the beginning of the 60s. After the war Rēzekne, as whole Latvia, faced a challenging situation. 1/3 of the population lost due to World War 2 and resulting Stalinist repressions and partisan war that only ended in the beginning of 50s. Although people from countryside didn't want to go and ''collectivise'' in Soviet collective farms, to work for peanuts (it really was like that in first post war decades) and they went to towns, including Rēzekne, Soviet 5 year plans were aimed at building up industry as fast as possible. They lacked people, especially skilled people to work at these factories because men were either killed in the war, intelligencia was purged in repressions or had left the country, furthermore industries that never before existed were introduced in Rēzekne. Therefore there was need for workforce and like it happened all over Latvia, people were ''imported'' from other parts of Soviet Union, mainly Russia and Ukraine. As you can see in the picture, in the background there are the first three houses and meadows around. Soon there will be a full commieblock district called Ziemeļu rajons (Northern district), new flats were built and given mostly to immigrants from other parts of Soviet Union, and new factories were built to both satisfy the 5 year plans and the need of new migrant workers to be imported. Gone were Jews of Rēzekne, killed in Holocaust or scatter in the world and the demographics of the town started to change.

Latvians (or Latgalians) have always been a minority in Rēzekne. The town grew directly due to migration of people caused by the invention of railways. so it has been, on the whole, more tolerant than some other Latvian towns in the west. Some people say that's because Latgale and Rēzekne has been ''russified'', but I wouldn't want to agree to that. Even in 1939 Russians and Jews together outnumbered Latvians in the town, and while it's true that before the war the number of Russians vs Latvians was more like 35-65 and today it's like 55-45 and certainly migration during USSR times played it's role in Rēzekne's changing face, I do not believe that Latvians living in Rēzekne are any less Latvian than other Latvians living in other parts of Latvia. The mentality though is different, not only because of Latgalian part but also because of centuries living in a place that has always had bigger accents of other cultures.

In the beginning of 1990s most of big Soviet time factories in Rēzekne collapsed. One can mention several reasons- corruption, inability to work in market economy, dependency on raw materials from Russia which did not flow easy to Latvia after it severed political union with mother Russia, incompetence, theft, reliance on Russian market to sell all the products there which sometimes backfired with economic sanctions or thievery in Russia itself, need to modernise the factories but no money to do so... In any case, all that left Rēzekne with large number of unemployed people and failing infrastructure and only in the last few years the town has started to try and invent itself anew.
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All photos taken from Panorama Rezekne newspaper/site project - Старый новый Резекне.

Painful to watch at photos like these, almost all is gone now, due to the war.

rez8 by anjansons, on Flickr

Atbrīvošanas aleja

rez5 by anjansons, on Flickr

rez6 by anjansons, on Flickr

Latgolas Tautas Pils (literally: Latgalian People palace, like a concert hall and place for some events), now Rēzeknes kultūras nams (literally: Rezekne culture house, same function as then, in the 30s)

rez3 by anjansons, on Flickr

Concert hall ''Gors'' place in the 30s, in the background already mentioned ''Latgolas Tautas Pils''

rez2 by anjansons, on Flickr

Pre-war and during the war pictures of Vienoti Latvijai (Latgales Māra) ''United for Latvia'' monument. Not sure when the first picture was taken -either before the monument was erected in 1939, or briefly after it was taken down the first time after Soviet occupation in 1940 (it was briefly put back in its place under Nazi occupation). It is interesting that at one point there should be no cross that lady ''Latgale'' (or unofficially ''Māra'') is holding, as Soviets destroyed it at one point. But I do not recall when, as in war time pictures it is still there, maybe briefly after the war until the monument was torn down completely again.

rez1 by anjansons, on Flickr

Some pictures from opening ceremony.

''Goda vārti'' (Gates of honour) - reads ''Let's serve Latvia in unity!" (I guess already in those times Ulmanis was concerned about separatism tendencies in Latgale. ''Unity'' was a big slogan for region, in Daugavpils there was ''Vienības nams'' (Unity building), the name of the monument here was ''United for Latvia'' etc.

All photos from Latgale Museum of Culture and History
rez10 by anjansons, on Flickr

rez8 by anjansons, on Flickr

rez9 by anjansons, on Flickr
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