THE FAMILY VAULT OF THE DUKES OF COURLAND AND SEMIGALLIA
The Vault of the Dukes is located on the ground floor in the southeast corner of the Palace. Decorative metal lattices of the windows with the initials of Duke Ernst Johann are the work of the Jelgava blacksmith Johann Georg Frey (1738-1739).
The history of the Vault is as tragic as that of Jelgava Palace. In 1582 the first Duke of Courland Gotthard ordered to build a small church with room for sarcophagi in its basement. The church was located on the south side of the old Jelgava castle, not far from the current location of the Vault. The room in the church basement was made with the barrel-type ceiling and was about 9 meters wide. The first person buried in it was Duke Gotthard in 1567, but his sons, who had died earlier, were taken to Jelgava from Kuldiga castle.
In 1737, the church with the burial vault, together with the old castle, was demolished to make the place for the construction of a new baroque-style palace. The sarcophagi were temporarily moved. In 1743, the sarcophagus of Duke Ferdinand, who died in Danzig, was transported to Jelgava. The Vault was located on the basement floor of the southern building of the Palace, in two small vaulted rooms. In 1820, using donated funds, the Courland nobility repaired the premises in the southeastern corner of the palace, where, after remaking three small living rooms, a vaulted volume of 16.5 m length and 5 m with was obtained.
Throughout its history, the Vault has been repeatedly destroyed and robbed. The first damage in 1705 during the Northern War was caused by Swedish soldiers - they broke-open the sarcophagi and stole valuable jewelry. Only in 1933-1934 the Vault was renovated and expanded, and the sarcophagi were restored. After the completion of the works, the tomb was opened to visitors.
In July 1944, during the hostilities, the Palace was destroyed. The Vault was left to fend for itself until its closure in the late 1940s. During this time the Vault was subjected to destruction and looting, the sarcophagus of the daughter of Duke Friedrich Casimir and the head plate of the sarcophagus of Duke Ferdinand with the coat of arms disappeared, and the lid was stolen from the sarcophagus of Prince Johann Friedrich. Ornaments were torn from the sarcophagi, some of the clothes were stolen, the upholstery of the coffins was damaged.
In 1973 and 1976 the Rundale Palace Museum carried out a detailed description, examination and photographs of the sarcophagi. In 1987, the sarcophagi were transferred to the Rundale Palace Museum, and the Latvian University of Agriculture renovated the premises, provided heating and electricity. The conservation and restoration of burial textiles continues to this day.
In the Vault there are 21 metal sarcophagi and nine wooden coffins, in which 24 representatives of the Kettler dynasty and six members of the Biron dynasty were buried from 1569 to 1791.
The exposition of the Rundale Palace Museum "The Vault of the Dukes of Courland".
The Vault is open for visits from May 1 to October 31, daily from 9.00 to 17.00.