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History of Koknese

11.04.2006
 

Archeological excavations show that the region around Koknese was populated as early as in the Stone Age. The ancient Romans and Greek knew amber under the name of electron as merchandise and their chroniclers reported that it came from a northern island called Baltia.

Up to the 11th century, Zemgalian, Latgalian, Curonian, Livonian and Selonian tribes lived on agriculture, forged their weapons from iron and jewellery from other metals. They worshipped pagan gods and natural phenomena. The tribes were organized in a caste system consisting of tribal chieftains, free peasants and slaves headed by priests and in case of war by kings (kuingas). In the 8th and 9th centuries they put the attacking Vikings to rout.

In the 12th century the first monks turned up on the banks of the Daugava river who wanted to convert the tribes to Christianity. As the crusading knights were not very successful in Palestine they turned their attention to the last pagan area in Europe: the Baltic Sea region. Emperor Friedrich II had made the pledge of granting them the property rights of territories of the baptised heathens. The confluence of the rivers Daugava and Perse seemed to the Knights of the Order of the Brothers of the Sword (or Livonian Brothers of the Sword) a very strategic place for further captures. Soon the Livonian Knights, the bishop of Riga and Vladimir, prince of Polock, struggled for the area of the (assumedly Selonian or Latgalian) chieftain Vesceke. The latter grounded arms facing the superior forces, set his wooden castle on fire and fled to his Russian allies.

In 1209 Bishop Albert, the founder of Riga, had a stone castle built in Koknese (then Kokenhusen) which from then on belonged to the Bishop of Riga and his vasalls (Dietrich von Kukenois, later the house of Tiesenhausen till the 14th century). In 1218, the garrison of the castle consisted of 74 knights and 15 baptised Latvians. In 1277 Koknese was granted town privilege. Its inhabitants were sedulously merchandising, and the town`s favourable location at the Daugava waterway enhanced its development. As a member of the Hanse League Koknese paid part of the costs (7.5 pounds of Riga silver) for 3 Hanse cogs and 100 soldiers in the war between the Hanse and the Danish king in 1368. In 1420 the castle of Koknese became the summer residence of the bishop of Riga (800 to 900 knights, entourage and household). Between 1395 and 1550 the bishop and the knights repeatedly struggled for the heavily fortified castle. With the defeat of the Teutonic Order at Tannenberg in 1410, the resistance of Prussian towns and nobility against the order, the Prussian Confederation and the thirteen Years` war 1454-1466, the Monastic State of the Teutonic Knights started to disintegrate.

Up to the middle of the 16th century, the furs of sable, mink, ermine, weasel and squirrel, wax, hemp, honey, pitch and grain were transported from the East to the West in exchange for cloth, salt, silver, horses, weapons, glass and salted herring.

At that time the castle of Koknese with its triangular groundplan, its towers and 3 m thick walls was considered to be one of the mightiest of Livonia.

In 1555 a Lutheran congregation is mentioned in ancient documents.

In 1558 a long period of war and siege set in. At first the Russian tsar Ivan IV (Ivan the Terrible) cast a covetous eye at the monastic state of Livonia and the lucrative maritime trade in the Baltic area. Sweden and Poland supported the Teutonic Knights and joined the war. The Russians and Tartars captured the castle of Koknese in 1577 and destroyed the town. Grand Master Gothard von Kettler concluded an alliance with the Polish king who claimed territory in return. As Duke of Courland Kettler became a vassal of the Polish king Sigismund and in 1562 the Monastic State of the Teutonic Knights was dissolved.

Like other parts of contemporary Latvia, Koknese fell under Polish rule in 1561 as a result of the Livonian (or 1st Nordic) war, due to the exchange of Koknese castle for Bauska castle by the Bishop of Riga. In 1566 the legislative assembly of the Livonian Confederation (the Landtag), consisting of representatives of the Livonian Order, of the towns and the Bishop, was in session at the castle of Koknese and decided the law on religious freedom. In 1577 the troops of Ivan the Terrible approached Koknese castle. The inhabitants falsy considered themselves to be under the protection of Duke Magnus von Holstein (King of Livonia from 1570 to 1577) who had family relations with Ivan the Terrible and opened the gates. Many of them were killed or sent to serfdom. Until 1609 Poland and Sweden battled for Koknese castle with varying success. Koknese inhabitants did not only suffer from the marauding troops but also from famine.

The Germans living in Livonia were granted the right to German jurisdiction and administration, to religious freedom and the right to use the German language by King Sigismund II of Poland.

At the banks of the river Daugava near Koknese, a Polish customs station was established. As a result of the Polish-Swedish War 1600 to 1629, during which Koknese castle again was being fiercely fought over, Riga and Livonia belonged to the Swedish crown.

Under the rule of Gustav II August and the Swedish queen Kristine Koknese castle was fortified further and the town privilege was revived.

Between 1656 and 1661 Russian troops invaded the region again. 2500 men on 1400 ships ascended the Daugava river, conquered the Swedish garrison and killed the inhabitants of the town.

Afterwards the Swedish ruled till 1700. In 1687 a protestant church was built in Koknese.

During the Great Nordic war (1700 to 1721), in which Denmark, Poland, Saxony and Russia fought against Sweden, the Russian tsar Peter I (Peter the Great) conquered Riga and Latvia came under Russian rule. In 1701 the Saxon allies of the Poles blasted Koknese castle to avoid it to fall into the enemy`s hands. The castle was never rebuilt and Koknese lost its importance as a town and trade centre.

Ernst Glueck, who was the first to translate the bible into Latvian, founded one of the first schools for the children of Latvian peasants in Kokenhusen (Koknese) where he worked as a Protestant pastor from 1687. He was captured by the Russians in 1702 during the Great Nordic war and together with his family and his maid-servant Martha Skwaronskaja brought to Moscow. Martha, who adopted the Russian Orthodox creed and later became Russian tsarina Katharina I, provided for Glueck to be charged with the foundation of the first grammar school in Moscow in 1704.

In 1710 the plague spread in the whole of Latvia and in Koknese. In 1744 the Russian Empress Elisabeth (daughter of Peter the Great) gave the manor of Koknese to count Shuvalov, president of the Russian parliament. The manor had different owners till the family of Loewenstern bought it in 1780 whose property it was to the agrarian reform in 1922.

In 1812 Prussian troops stopped the Napoleonic army at the Daugava river opposite Koknese. In 1819 serfdom was abolished in Latvia. In the middle of the 19th century the Latvians started to counter the German predominance which had been lasting for centuries with their growing own national awareness. In 1861 the railway line between Riga and Daugavpils was opened, a train station was built in Koknese and the town started booming again. The famous Latvian writer Rudolfs Blaumanis lived in Koknese from 1885 to 1887 studying estate management. In 1868 the Koknese cultural club was founded, its club house was built in 1902. One of the first Latvian consumer co-operative societies was founded in Koknese. Around the turn of the century the Loewensterns built the so-called New Palace, which was destroyed in the First World War.

After the declaration of independence the Latvian Republic brought new wealth also to Koknese: a factory for linen, weaving and spinning mills, corn mills were built and after the agrarian reform 454 new farms came into being. Koknese evolved into a popular summer resort where artists and intellectuals spent their holidays.

In 1939 the so-called Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact between Germany and the Soviet Union was signed which against international law declared Latvia a sphere of interest of the Soviet Union. In Koknese, the private farms were expropriated and turned into Kolchoses. In 1941, the Soviet occupants deported 13 inhabitants of Koknese to Siberia, in 1949 another 80 of them.

In 1965, a hydropower station was erected at the Daugava river near Aizkraukle. Caused by the dam the water level of the Daugava river rose significantly and the landscape around Koknese changed dramatically: the castle ruins no longer sat enthroned high above the river, the water now reaches up to its basement, the picturesque valley of the Perse river vanished forever as well as the legendary Staburags cascade, which had been a place of national importance for the Latvians from time immemorial. Here the tribal warriors had gathered to find strength or healing, here the people had met to sing and dance. Today only the remnants of a flight of stone steps leading into the water remind of that unique waterfall, which had poured out 20 m deep over white dolomite rocks into the Daugava river and had formed beautiful calc-sinter shapes.