26 August, 2015
“Rundāle” comes from the German place name Ruhenthal (Valley of Peace), yet Rundāle Palace has not had the most peaceful existence since its construction in 1768…
Following the abdication of Duke Peter and the absorption of the Duchy of Courland to the Russian Empire in 1795, Catherine II presented the palace to Count Valerian Zubov, the youngest brother of Catherine’s last “favourite”, Prince Platon Zubov. Following Count Zubov’s death in 1804, the palace was passed onto Prince Platon Zubov. Under Prince Platon Zubov’s possession, the interior décor of the palace underwent many refurbishments. However, all of this work was undone as the palace was demolished in 1812 during the Franco-Prussian war; perhaps the greatest loss was the destruction of the library that Catherine had given as a present. Prince Platon Zubov died in 1822, but his widow remarried Count Andrei Shuvalov. The palace remained in the Shuvalov’s possession until World War One.
During the Great War, the palace was occupied by the German army. Nevertheless, the palace survived under German occupation, being used as a commandant’s office and an infirmary. It is somewhat surprising that the 18th Century palace managed to survive the Great War yet suffered significant damage in 1919 by the Bermondt-Avalov army during the Latvian War of Independence. The palace was renovated once again in 1923, and was subsequently put to more practical use during the 20th century, serving as a parish primary school. It was only in 1972 that a permanent Rundale Palace Museum was established with the aim of orientating towards the restoration of its 18th Century condition.
Today the Rundale Palace and Museum remains open to the public. Visitors to the palace find themselves taken on a journey through the palace’s vast history, from the exhibit of “The contemporaries of the Duke of Courland”, to walking through the Zubov and Shuvalov state rooms. Current exhibits focus on showcasing all periods of the palace’s history, including an exhibit on “Fashion in Latvia from the 17th to the 19th Century” and the opportunity to visit the family vault of the Dukes of Courland.