True Lithuania

Rundale Palace and Bauska Town, Latvia

Some 15 kilometers from the Lithuanian-Latvian border (only 10 km detour from Vilnius-Riga road) stands one of the foremost tourist sites of Latvia. This is the baroque Rundale palace (1736-1768), once a summer residence of the dukes of Courland and Semigallia. There are many manors in the Baltic States but none of them could rival Rundale both in opulence and scale.

After all most Baltic manors were built by the local nobility that owned some nearby lands but all them were still part of Poland-Lithuania. The dukes of Courland (Kettler and Biron dynasties), on the other hand, had their own semi-sovereign duchy, a vassal of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Courland even participated in the colonization of Americas, colonizing Tobago island in the 17th century where a geographical feature is still named Great Courland Bay. Other colonial adventures included Gambia and while they were unsuccessful on the long term, Courland, with mere 100 000 inhabitants at the time, was the smallest nation to partake in the colonialism.

The Rundale palace is the main heritage of this small, yet powerful country, as the Dukes' primary residence in Jelgava had its interior looted and burned by the Russian forces in 1918. Both Rundale and Jelgava palaces were created by Bartolomeo Rastrelli - the same architect who was behind the Winter Palace (Hermitage) in Saint Petersburg and the Carskoye Selo palace of the Russian czars.

Rundale Palace. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

In Rundale many extravagant rooms may be visited inside on the second floor. Restorations are ongoing and much of what haven't survived has been restored. First floors house temporary exhibitions. Formal garden in front of the palace with its straight paths and a fountain is another pinnacle of the visit.

The nearest town to Rundale Palace is Bauska (Lithuanian: Bauskė) on the Vilnius-Riga road. Traditionally a community of merchants the town has many surviving old buildings. The central square is crowned by a recently rebuilt towered city hall. In streets like Rigas you may walk some 500 meters without encountering post-WW2 buildings. Lutheran church of Bauska dates to the 16th century. Like other Latvian towns, Bauske has many Christian denominations so newer Russian Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches also exist. On the confluence of Nemunėlis (Latvian: Memele) and Mūša (Latvian: Musa) rivers stands a formidable Bauska castle of the Teutonic knights, partly rebuilt.

Read more: Full travel guides of Bauska and Rundale at Onlatvia website

Article written by Augustinas Žemaitis

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