Jelgava Palace

Jelgava, Latvia

Jelgava or Mitava Palace is the largest Baroque style palace in the Baltic states. It was built in the 18th century based on the design of Bartolomeo Rastrelli as a residence for the Dukes of Courland in their capital - Mitava (today Jelgava). The palace was founded by Ernst Johann von Biron in 1738 on an island between the Lielupe river and its branches. The site had borne the residence of the former Courland dukes of the Kettler dynasty and, before that, a medieval castle belonging to the Teutonic Knights.

Following Biron's fall from grace in 1740, all construction work was stopped, even though the roof of the palace had not yet been completed. Work resumed after Biron's return from exile in 1763. Besides Rastrelli (who, with the death of his patronness, the Empress Elizabeth, lost business in Saint Petersburg), Danish architect Severin Jensen participated in the project, giving the palace a touch of classicism.

After construction was completed in 1772, the duke lived in the palace for a six months. In 1779, his successor, Peter von Biron, hosted the famous adventurer Alessandro Cagliostro in the palace. After Courland was absorbed by the Russian Empire in 1795, the palace served as a refuge for French royalty fleeing the French revolution. Louis XVIII of France and his family lived in the palace between 1797 and 1801. It was here that Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte of France married Louis-Antoine, Duke of Angoulême, in 1799.

The interior decorations of the palace were destroyed in 1918 when it was looted and burned by retreating White forces under the command of Pavel Bermondt-Avalov. The palace also suffered heavy damage in World War II, during battles in the summer of 1944. The exterior of the palace was restored between 1956 and 1964, but not the interior. The Latvia University of Agriculture has been housed in the palace since the Soviet period.

Jelgava Palace is not considered one of Rastrelli's better works. Critics note the dull facade design lacking rhythmic diversity and plastic richness which characterized Rastrelli works in the Elizabeth's period. Also, atypically for Rastrelli, the palace does not feature a park; nor is the parade yard closed, rather it faces the urban panorama. Originally, the palace consisted of two wings connected to the main building forming a U-shape. In 1937 a fourth building was added effectively closing the perimeter.

Features of special historical significance include the burial vault of the Dukes of Courland in the south-east basement. All Dukes of Courland from the Houses of Kettler and Biron were buried there between 1569 to 1791. The rooms contain 21 sarcophagi and nine wooden coffins. The crypt was relocated to the palace in 1819.

References:

Comments

Your name

Website (optional)



User Reviews

Powered by Google

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Limburg Cathedral

The Cathedral of Limburg is one of the best preserved late Romanesque style buildings. It is unknown When the first church was built above the Lahn river. Archaeological discoveries have revealed traces of a 9th-century church building in the area of the current chapel. It was probably built in Merovingian times as a castle and the chapel added in the early 9th century.

In 910 AD, Count Konrad Kurzbold (cousin of the future King Konrad I) founded a collegiate chapter of 18 canons, who lived according to the rule of Bishop Chrodegang of Metz, on the hilltop site. The original castle chapel was torn down and a three-aisled basilica was built in its place. The foundations of this basilica have been found beneath the present floor.

The construction of current cathedral is dated to 1180-90. The consecration was performed in 1235 by the archbishop of Trier. It seems certain that the cathedral was built in four stages. The first stage encompassed the west facade, the south side aisle, the choir and the transept up to the matroneum. This section forms the Conradine church. The second stage consisted of the addition of the inner pillars of the south nave. In this stage the bound system was first introduced. In the third phase, the matroneum in the southern nave was built. The fourth stage included the north side of the transept and the choir matroneum. By this stage Gothic influence is very clear.

The interior was destroyed by Swedish soldiers during the Thirty Years War (1618-48) and reconstructed in a late Baroque style in 1749. The Baroque renovation was heavy-handed: the surviving medieval stained glass windows were replaced; all the murals were covered up; the ribs of the vaults and columns of the arcades were painted blue and red; the capstones were gilded; the original high altar was replaced. The colorfully painted exterior was coated in plain white and the central tower was extended by 6.5 meters.

The collegiate chapter of Limburg was dissolved in 1803 during the Napoleonic period, but then raised to the rank of cathedral in 1827 when the bishopric of Limburg was founded. Some renovations in contemporary style followed: the walls were coated white, the windows were redone in blue and orange (the heraldic colors of the Duke of Nassau) and towers were added to the south transept (1865).

Further changes came after Limburg was incorporated into the Kingdom of Prussia in 1866. It was now the Romantic period and the cathedral was accordingly restored to an idealized vision of its original Romanesque appearance. The exterior stonework was stripped of all its plaster and paint, to better conform with the Romantic ideal of a medieval church growing out of the rock. The Baroque interior was stripped away and the wall paintings were uncovered and repainted.

Further renovations came in 1934-35, enlightened by better knowledge of the original art and architecture. Art Nouveau stained glass windows were also added. A major restoration in 1965-90 included replastering and painting the exterior, both to restore it to its original appearance and to protect the stonework, which was rapidly deteriorating while exposed to the elements.

The interior is covered in medieval frescoes dating from 1220 to 1235. They are magnificent and important survivals, but time has not been terribly kind to them - they were whitewashed over in the Baroque period (1749) and uncovered and repainted with a heavy hand in the Romantic period (1870s) before finally being restored more sensitively in the 1980s.