In late August I was in Riga, Latvia and decided to rent a car and see a few sites outside the capital. The first place I wanted to see was one of two palaces. The first one was Dukes of Courland Ernst Johann von Biron’s primary residences.
He started Jelgava Palace in 1738 on a site that had once hosted the residences of past Courland dukes and, before that, a medieval castle belonging to the Livonian Order. Unfortunately, all construction work was stopped only two years later because he had a fall from grace, displeased royals, and was exiled to Siberia for 22 years. Upon his return in 1762 he resumed construction but had financial difficulties and it took another 10 years to complete. When he finally moved in the interior was still being worked on and he only lived another 6 months.
Later the palace served as a refuge for French royalty fleeing the French revolution from 1798-1807. From then on it served as the residence of the local governor, Napoleon’s local government, and the local governor again when Russia reestablished control. Sadly they looted and burned the palace to a ruins when Russia withdrew during the War of Independence.
The newly formed Latvian Republic started a restoration of the palace to house the new Jelgava Academy of Agriculture. As with lots of Europe, the palace suffered heavy damage in World War II and was almost completely destroyed during heavy shelling and street fighting. The exterior of the palace was restored between 1956 and 1964, but the interior was fitted to house the Latvia Academy of Agriculture (now the Latvia University of Life Sciences and Technologies) again. Which is the situation today.
Now you might think Jelgava Palace is not worth visiting at all and you would be wrong. The exterior is beautiful and there is a crypt housing 21 sarcophagi of many of the Dukes of Courland who had a residence here before the palace was built. But if you really want to see an amazing palace that Ernst Johann von Biron had built you need to go to nearby Rundale Palace that was his summer residence and I will tell you all about it tomorrow.