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.

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Luxembourg Palace

The famous Italian Medici family have given two queens to France: Catherine, the spouse of Henry II, and Marie, widow of Henry IV, who built the current Luxembourg palace. Maria di Medici had never been happy at the Louvre, still semi-medieval, where the fickle king, did not hesitate to receive his mistresses. The death of Henry IV, assassinated in 1610, left the way open for Marie's project. When she became regent, she was able to give special attention to the construction of an imposing modern residence that would be reminiscent of the Palazzo Pitti and the Boboli Gardens in Florence, where she grew up. The development of the 25-hectare park, which was to serve as a jewel-case for the palace, began immediately.

The architect, Salomon de Brosse, began the work in 1615. Only 16 years later was the palace was completed. Palace of Luxembourg affords a transition between the Renaissance and the Classical period.

In 1750, the Director of the King's Buildings installed in the wing the first public art-gallery in France, in which French and foreign canvases of the royal collections are shown. The Count of Provence and future Louis XVIII, who was living in Petit Luxembourg, had this gallery closed in 1780: leaving to emigrate, he fled from the palace in June 1791.

During the French Revolution the palace was first abandoned and then moved as a national prison. After that it was the seat of the French Directory, and in 1799, the home of the Sénat conservateur and the first residence of Napoleon Bonaparte, as First Consul of the French Republic. The old apartments of Maria di Medici were altered. The floor, which the 80 senators only occupied in 1804, was built in the middle of the present Conference Hall.

Beginning in 1835 the architect Alphonse de Gisors added a new garden wing parallel to the old corps de logis, replicating the look of the original 17th-century facade so precisely that it is difficult to distinguish at first glance the old from the new. The new senate chamber was located in what would have been the courtyard area in-between.

The new wing included a library (bibliothèque) with a cycle of paintings (1845–1847) by Eugène Delacroix. In the 1850s, at the request of Emperor Napoleon III, Gisors created the highly decorated Salle des Conférences, which influenced the nature of subsequent official interiors of the Second Empire, including those of the Palais Garnier.

During the German occupation of Paris (1940–1944), Hermann Göring took over the palace as the headquarters of the Luftwaffe in France, taking for himself a sumptuous suite of rooms to accommodate his visits to the French capital. Since 1958 the Luxembourg palace has been the seat of the French Senate of the Fifth Republic.