Rundāle Palace is one of the two major baroque palaces built for the Dukes of Courland in what is now Latvia, the other being Jelgava Palace. The palace was built in two periods, from 1736 until 1740 and from 1764 until 1768. It was constructed to a design by Bartolomeo Rastrelli as a summer residence of Ernst Johann von Biron, the Duke of Courland. Following Biron's fall from grace, the palace stood empty until the 1760s, when Rastrelli returned to complete its interior decoration.

After Duchy of Courland and Semigallia was absorbed by the Russian Empire in 1795, Catherine the Great presented the palace to Count Valerian Zubov, the youngest brother of her lover, Prince Platon Zubov. He spent his declining years there after the death of Valerian Zubov in 1804. His young widow, Thekla Walentinowicz, a local landowner's daughter, remarried Count Shuvalov, thus bringing the palace to the Shuvalov family, with whom it remained until the German occupation in World War I when the German army established a hospital and a commandant's office there.

The palace suffered serious damage in 1919 during the Latvian War of Independence. In 1920, part of the premises were occupied by the local school. In 1933, Rundāle Palace was taken over by the State History Museum of Latvia. It was dealt a serious blow after World War II, when the grain storehouse was set up in the premises and later, the former duke's dining room was transformed into the school's gymnasium. Only in 1972 was a permanent Rundāle Palace Museum established.

The palace is one of the major tourist destinations in Latvia. It is also used for the accommodation of notable guests, such as the leaders of foreign nations. The palace and the surrounding gardens are now a museum.

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Details

Founded: 1736-1768
Category: Palaces, manors and town halls in Latvia
Historical period: Part of the Russian Empire (Latvia)

Rating

4.6/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

ieva Ramanauskaite (5 months ago)
Great tourist attraction. Loads of rooms to visit in the castle. The food and the service in the cafe downstairs was great. Will come back in the summer to visit the gardens.
JC Trouboul (5 months ago)
Great Palace! Friendly staff and quiet place. It's like Versailles but you can enjoy without crowds. Love it!
Alex Cox (5 months ago)
Middle of nowhere to grand Palace. Beautiful both inside and out. Good food available. Make sure to visit the gardens.
Lorna Myers (9 months ago)
This is a beautiful jewel of a palace lovingly restored from its state of abandonment during the Soviet era (which included using it as a school and transforming the amazing dining room into a GYM of all things), to what it is now again. Our guide spoke perfect English and was most informative. Definitely take the time to stop by and visit.
Kathrin Dörr (10 months ago)
Super pretty castle! The staff is amazing and friendly and the guided tours are informational and interesting. There weren't too many visitors so we could really enjoy our stay. I'm still impressed, definitely would recommend!
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Porta Nigra

The Porta Nigra (Latin for black gate) is the largest Roman city gate north of the Alps. It is designated as part of the Roman Monuments, Cathedral of St. Peter and Church of Our Lady in Trier UNESCO World Heritage Site. The name Porta Nigra originated in the Middle Ages due to the darkened colour of its stone; the original Roman name has not been preserved. Locals commonly refer to the Porta Nigra simply as Porta.

The Porta Nigra was built in grey sandstone between 186 and 200 AD. The original gate consisted of two four-storied towers, projecting as near semicircles on the outer side. A narrow courtyard separated the two gate openings on either side. For unknown reasons, however, the construction of the gate remained unfinished. For example, the stones at the northern (outer) side of the gate were never abraded, and the protruding stones would have made it impossible to install movable gates. Nonetheless, the gate was used for several centuries until the end of the Roman era in Trier.

In Roman times, the Porta Nigra was part of a system of four city gates, one of which stood at each side of the roughly rectangular Roman city. The Porta Nigra guarded the northern entry to the Roman city, while the Porta Alba (White Gate) was built in the east, the Porta Media (Middle Gate) in the south, and the Porta Inclyta (Famous Gate) in the west, next to the Roman bridge across the Moselle. The gates stood at the ends of the two main streets of the Roman Trier, one of which led north-south and the other east-west. Of these gates, only the Porta Nigra still exists today.

In the early Middle Ages the Roman city gates were no longer used for their original function and their stones were taken and reused for other buildings. Also iron and lead braces were broken out of the walls of the Porta Nigra for reuse. Traces of this destruction are still clearly visible on the north side of the gate.

After 1028, the Greek monk Simeon lived as a hermit in the ruins of the Porta Nigra. After his death (1035) and sanctification, the Simeonstift monastery was built next to the Porta Nigra to honor him. Saving it from further destruction, the Porta Nigra was transformed into a church: The inner court of the gate was roofed and intermediate ceilings were inserted. The two middle storeys of the former gate were converted into church naves: the upper storey being for the monks and the lower storey for the general public. The ground floor with the large gates was sealed, and a large outside staircase was constructed alongside the south side (the town side) of the gate, up to the lower storey of the church. A small staircase led further up to the upper storey. The church rooms were accessible through former windows of the western tower of the Porta Nigra that were enlarged to become entrance doors (still visible today). The top floor of the western tower was used as church tower, the eastern tower was leveled, and an apse added at its east side. An additional gate - the much smaller Simeon Gate - was built adjacent to the East side of the Porta Nigra and served as a city gate in medieval times.

In 1802 Napoleon Bonaparte dissolved the church in the Porta Nigra and the monastery beside it, along with the vast majority of Trier"s numerous churches and monasteries. On his visit to Trier in 1804, Napoleon ordered that the Porta Nigra be converted back to its Roman form. Only the apse was kept; but the eastern tower was not rebuilt to its original height. Local legend has it that Napoleon originally wanted to completely tear down the church, but locals convinced him that the church had actually been a Gaulish festival hall before being turned into a church. Another version of the story is that they told him about its Roman origins, persuading him to convert the gate back to its original form.

In 1986 the Porta Nigra was designated a World Heritage Site, along with other Roman monuments in Trier and its surroundings. The modern appearance of the Porta Nigra goes back almost unchanged to the reconstruction ordered by Napoleon. At the south side of the Porta Nigra, remains of Roman columns line the last 100 m of the street leading to the gate. Positioned where they had stood in Roman times, they give a slight impression of the aspect of the original Roman street that was lined with colonnades. The Porta Nigra, including the upper floors, is open to visitors.