• Danik Bates

Rundāle Palace: a great day out from Riga

Updated: May 7

One of our bucket list items in Latvia was completed this summer and that was to head south to the Bauska area of the country (near the Lithuanian border) and check out the splendid Rundāle Palace (known in Latvian as Rundāles Pils). There are only two baroque palaces built in Latvia (at the time they were built for the Dukes of Courland before the area was known as Latvia), one being Rundāle Palace and the other being Jelgava Palace which is located an hours drive from here.

As we had a car the trip to Bauska was a pretty easy one from Riga and took about an hour. On arrival there is plenty of car parking and it is free. However if anyone is arriving by public transport, they would need a bus to the main bus station then either get a local bus or a taxi to the palace as it’s located 12km west of Bauska. Tickets can be brought online here but we arrived on the day and bought our tickets straight away. The ticket office is located in a small room to the right just as visitors enter the main courtyard.

The courtyard is the first glimpse visitors will see and for us personally, is probably one of the best parts to see of the palace (the back facade of the palace is having some repair work so all we got to see there is a lot of construction work going on). We could see this wasn’t a small palace and reminds me of the ones we have visited in Potsdam, Germany. We would say we could put the Rundāle Palace in the same league as the Sanssouci Palace (and if you would like to know what we are talking about, then visit our post here). The courtyard itself looks a bit plain and bland, no gardens to see but the building overlooking with its bright yellow colours makes up for this.

It was a hot summer's day when we came here so to cool down we went to do the self-guided palace tour. We won’t explain every single room as our readers will probably get very bored but we will tell you the highlights, the must-sees! (with a bit of history of course).

The palace started out around 1730’s when the Duke of Courland, Ernst Johann von Biron bought the land which had a castle on it. The castle was destroyed and the Rundāle Palace was built (but took a long time as the Jelgava Palace was being constructed at the same time, so the materials for the Rundāle Palace were either very late turning up or transferred to Jelgava Palace as the Duke saw that as his number one project). However the Duke who went off to play silly games with the Russian Empire (not sure if that’s the right words) in the 1740s, the palace stood still and wasn’t finished. It remained empty until 1762 when good old Biron returned from his jollies in Russia. Eventually the palace was completed in 1768, Biron fell in love with the place and moved there straight away. Did he forget about Jelgava Palace? Who knows. He visited the palace every summer until he died in 1772.

Shortly afterwards the Duchy of Courland was absorbed by the Russian Empire, Catherine the Great gave the palace to some person’s brother who she was doing the dirty with (or was it one of her lover’s?...she had so many by the sounds of it), and stayed in his family until World War One. The German army came here and turned it into a hospital and a commandant’s office. However this wasn’t the first time the palace was used as a hospital, the first being in 1812 when the French army led by Napoleon came through on their way to give the Russians a good talking to! Several soldiers who died here are buried in the park nearby and there is a monument there to describe this.

The palace was damaged in 1919 during the Latvian War of Independence and parts of the building were badly burned. Eventually it was rebuilt and used as a school during the 1930s. The Second World War came along, not much happened, the palace was still used as a school and for some reason a grain storehouse was set up inside. During the Soviet Times the palace was restored and then during the Latvian independence in the early 1990s, more restoration works were carried out. Now the palace and gardens is a museum and is one of the most visited places to see in the country.

That’s the history and now for the highlights. The Gold Room which was used as the Duke’s throne room. The White Hall was first designed as a chapel but then transformed into a ballroom later on. The Grand Gallery was used as a banqueting hall. Then there are the Duke’s state apartments. Ten rooms which are located in the central buildings which include a library, the rose room, a Dutch salon and a room purely to show off portraits of Governors at the time. The highlight has to be the Duke’s bedroom which reminded me of rooms in the Versailles Palace in France. The paintings on the ceiling are just truly amazing.

On the western side of the palace is the Duchess apartments. There are a few rooms but only two of them have amazing decor. The rest to me seems to store furniture for her belongings.

After walking around the palace, it is then time to check out the gardens which were designed at the same time as the palace was first built. Designed by an Italian, the gardens were actually done by two men (we couldn’t find any evidence that there were more people involved, there may have been). Right at the back of the palace is the Rose Garden which has lots of roses (of course), wide paths and water fountains. The gardens are huge so allow time to check out this area.

A few tips to make visitors' day enjoyable like ours. Plan ahead and get there early as possible. A few hours needed to see everything. Take a snack and a bottle of water as well. There are guided tours available and details can be found on their website and also a restaurant and a couple of cafes located here.

We actually did enjoy our visit to the Rundāle Palace and it was great to see a glimpse into a different part of Latvian history, a part which we don’t see often. Usually we see old buildings, hear of heartbroken stories, but here, not too much bad stuff went on. We know this place was built for the rich and has very similar stories and layout to those in Central Europe but this is something which isn’t found everyday in Latvia. If you (our readers) are interested in history, seeing a palace etc, then make the effort to come here. You won’t be disappointed.

Another tip, when in Bauska (the nearest town), also check out the castle overlooking the river. Bauska Castle was originally used as a hill fort which was built in the fifteenth century. A lot of restoration has been done as the castle has been damaged over the centuries but is worth checking out. A lot of visitors combine this castle with the Rundāle Palace and make it into a one day trip.

Please note that while we were not working with Rundāle Palace and were all paid for by ourselves. We love Riga and Latvia so much and want to show you the country through our eyes and give you the best advice possible. Our reviews and experiences written about in this post are 100% genuine. We value our readers too much to lie to you. Our blog would be nothing without you and your continued support!

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