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Rundāle Palace Ensemble with a Garden and Forest Park

Date of Submission: 22/06/2021
Criteria: (i)(ii)(iv)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
National Heritage Board of Latvia
State, Province or Region:
Pilsrundāle, Rundāle parish, Bauska county
Coordinates: N56 41 4,819 E24 02 6,048
Ref.: 6544
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Description

The Rundāle Palace ensemble with a garden and forest park is located in the Zemgale plain near the Latvian-Lithuanian border. The closest town Bauska is 12 km away, Jelgava – 43 km and Riga – 79 km away. Administratively, the Palace complex is included into the village of Pilsrundāle in Rundāle Parish and can be reached on P103 Dobele–Bauska regional route, making a turn to Pilsrundāle.

The region is especially favourable for agriculture. The 85-hectare Palace territory, which includes a complex of buildings; a site of the old medieval castle and a pond; eastern, western and northern side orchards; French garden; forest park; plant nursery; garden area, and eastern and western parking lots, is surrounded by cultivated cereal fields and separate residential buildings, whereas the administrative centre of Rundāle county – Pilsrundāle is less than a kilometre away towards the north-west. The Palace territory is located in the left bank catchment area of the Lielupe River basin. The proximity of the Lielupe determines a relatively dense network of rivers and brooks. The ancient valley of the nearby Lielupe is included in a specially protected nature territory – Bauska Nature Park, which is part of the Natura 2000 network of nature protection areas of the European Union.

The Rundāle Palace ensemble with a garden and forest park – most outstanding Baroque period residence of a governor in the Baltics – is in a harmonious rural landscape.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The Rundāle Palace ensemble with a garden and forest park is a monument of architecture, culture and history that provides an authentic testimony to the Duchy of Courland and to the cultural interaction between 18th century Europe and Russian Empire in modern territory of Latvia. The best architect of the Russian Empire of that time – Francesco Rastrelli (1697–1771), designed the palace ensemble. He was offered the opportunity to build an ideal residence corresponding to the concepts of his time and plan it together with a garden area and surrounding constructions. The result is a representative but, at the same time, reasonably restrained building that blends harmoniously into the surrounding landscape and forms a potentially familiar relationship between the scale and space that is comprehensible to all. The Rundāle Palace ensemble with a garden and forest park has successfully immortalised the idea of a Baroque spirit (genius loci) that is understandable and accessible to modern-day visitors. The Palace complex with a garden is an outstanding Duke’s residential building phenomenon in the context of Northern Europe. Unlike many European palaces, Rundāle has retained the stylistic integrity of the 18th century architecture. It has not been subjected to significant later reconstructions and modernisations.

Today, the Rundāle Palace ensemble with a garden and forest park remains true to the original environment and can be referred to as a Baroque palace ensemble in a pristine rural landscape. The Palace has a high degree of artistic décor authenticity (85%), thus preserving the oeuvre of masters significant not only in the territory of Latvia but also in a wider region. This oeuvre includes versatile albeit stylistically unified supple décor of the premises by Johann Michael Graff – a sculptor and artificial marble master of the Bavarian school based in Prussia; monumental paintings by two painters of Italian origin Francesco Martini and Carlo Zucchi in eight premises of the Palace; and the legacy of local craftsmen recruited from ducal domain manors, as well as hired Russian masters.

All the above-mentioned artefacts were preserved by carrying out thoughtful and scientifically based restoration that lasted 50 years (1964–2014). Most of the Palace restoration works were performed under the leadership of Dr.h.c.art. Imants Lancmanis, who was a long-term director of the museum (1975–2018). Thanks to his careful research of not only the history of Rundāle Palace and its owners, but also the history of Latvian architecture and art by focusing on the legacy of Baltic Germans and applying this knowledge to the restoration process, it was possible to restore the Palace and also to create a sense of the Baroque era.

Currently Rundāle Palace is presented as the Duke's summer residence furnished with the 18th century furniture, interior items and works of art. While the French Garden of Rundāle Palace is designed to fulfil the aspirations of Baroque period for surprises and unexpected effects with the authentic layout of the garden bosquets and pathways, as well as with one of the largest rosariums in the northern part of Europe.

Criterion (i): Rundāle Palace – the summer residence of the Duke Ernst Johann of Courland – is the only construction project by the outstanding Russian court architect Francesco Rastrelli that was completed in the early period of his 20-year long career, and has not undergone reconstruction during the 19th century or suffered damages in the revolutions and wars of the 20th century. The Palace was built in two construction periods: 1) from 1736 until 1740 when the building was constructed and roofed, and the interior décor of most of the premises designed; and 2) from 1764 until 1768 when the necessary repairs were carried out, and the interior of the Palace gained a new late Rococo style finish. It is important to note that the erection of main buildings during both construction periods, as well as the establishing of a regular Baroque garden, were carried out under the direct supervision of the author. It is also the only residence of the Duke of Courland that provides authentic evidence about the life of the governors in the final period of the Duchy.

Today, the Rundāle Palace ensemble with a garden and forest park remains true to the original environment and can be referred to as a Baroque palace ensemble in a pristine rural landscape. The Palace has a high degree of artistic décor authenticity (85%), thus preserving the oeuvre of masters significant not only in the territory of Latvia but also in a wider region. This oeuvre includes versatile albeit stylistically unified supple décor of the premises by Johann Michael Graff – a sculptor and artificial marble master of the Bavarian school based in Prussia; monumental paintings by two painters of Italian origin Francesco Martini and Carlo Zucchi in eight premises of the Palace; and the legacy of local craftsmen recruited from ducal domain manors, as well as hired Russian masters.

Criterion (ii): All the above-mentioned artefacts were preserved by carrying out thoughtful and scientifically based restoration that lasted 50 years (1964–2014). The author behind the idea of the restoration of Rundāle Palace was the first director of the museum Laimonis Liepa (1933–1975). Most of the Palace restoration works were performed under the leadership of Dr.h.c.art. Imants Lancmanis. Lancmanis who was a long-term director of the museum (1975–2018) is an iconic personality in Latvian culture. Thanks to his careful research of not only the history of Rundāle Palace and its owners, but also the history of Latvian architecture and art by focusing on the legacy of Baltic Germans and applying this knowledge to the restoration process, it was possible to restore the Palace and also to create a sense of the Baroque era. The lifelong contribution of Imants Lancmanis to the restoration of Rundāle Palace is also inextricably linked to its image today and is internationally recognised as an example of excellent restoration practice.

Currently Rundāle Palace is presented as the Duke's summer residence furnished with the 18th century furniture, interior items and works of art. This enables it to display its original functions and creates an easy to perceive atmosphere of habitation corresponding to the Duke's standard of living.

Setting its main task as the fulfilment of aspirations of the Baroque period for surprises and unexpected effects, one of the largest rosariums in the northern part of Europe has been established in the greenery of the French Garden of Rundāle Palace. The collection of roses, which includes more than 2300 varieties, showcases historical roses grown since the 12th century and the achievements of modern propagators. The layout of the garden bosquets has been renovated according to the historical network of pathways and green areas. Following Rastrelli's plans, the Green Theatre was established in one of the garden bosquets.

Criterion (iv): The Rundāle Palace ensemble with a garden and forest park is a place where the ambitions of several outstanding personalities have met. On the one hand, it was the Count Ernst Johann Biron, later the Duke of Courland, who was able to amass enough funds after a successful political career to purchase a property in his homeland and to accomplish the idea of building a luxurious residence designed by the best architect of the Russian Empire of that time. On the other hand, the construction of this complex revealed the outstanding talent of its architect Francesco Rastrelli (1697–1771). He was offered the opportunity to build an ideal residence corresponding to the concepts of his time and plan it together with a garden area and surrounding constructions. The result is a representative but, at the same time, reasonably restrained building that blends harmoniously into the surrounding landscape and forms a potentially familiar relationship between the scale and space that is comprehensible to all. The Rundāle Palace ensemble with a garden and forest park has successfully immortalised the idea of a Baroque spirit (genius loci) that is understandable and accessible to modern-day visitors. The Palace complex with a garden is the most splendid example of a feudal residence not only in Latvia but also in the Baltics and is an outstanding phenomenon in the context of Northern Europe too. Unlike many European palaces, Rundāle has retained the stylistic integrity of the 18th century architecture. It has not been subjected to significant later reconstructions and modernisations. In addition, around the Palace the landscape of Zemgale has not changed considerably since the 18th century. The surroundings of the Palace have not been affected by urbanisation, and modern buildings do not overwhelm the Palace ensemble, allowing to preserve the original idea of integration into the surrounding environment.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

Throughout the history of Rundāle Palace, the building has not been subjected to significant reconstruction that would alter the architectural image of the Palace. Minor alterations that had occurred over time were averted during the Palace restoration process by conceptually renovating its appearance to that of the second half of the 18th century. Despite political, economic and social upheaval that took place from the start of construction to the present day, the Palace complex has organically adapted to these changes and to the changing functions of its buildings, whilst still preserving the aristocratic aura of an outstanding architecture characteristic to the Baroque period.

After the liquidation of the Duchy of Courland in 1795, the Palace became a private residence owned by Count Zubov and later by the Counts Shuvalov, and this form of building management was retained until the Agrarian Reform Law of 1920 when the property was nationalized. The high architectural quality of the Rundāle Palace building has always been recognized while it was privately owned, as well as later when it was under the state jurisdiction and the Board of Monuments ensured proper preservation of the property. In 1923, the Palace was renovated after it had been used as a Commandant’s Office for the German Army and a hospital during World War I and following demolitions carried out by the soldiers of Bermont-Avalov Army in 1919, because it was now necessary to adapt its premises for a new function – Rundāle Parish Primary School. In 1924, the Palace was handed over to the Union of War Invalids of Latvia, but in 1933 it was taken over by the Board of Monuments. A building renovation plan was drawn up at around that time and restoration of some of the premises began. The West wing was adapted to needs of the primary school. In 1938, the Palace was taken over by the State Historical Museum with the intention of establishing a museum of church and decorative art. The Palace remained open to visitors during World War II. In 1945, the Palace halls were used as grain warehouses while the Rundāle Primary School continued to occupy parts of the Palace.

In 1963, parts of the Palace were transferred to the jurisdiction of the Bauska Museum of Local History and Art. In 1972, an independent Rundāle Palace Museum was established, the main task of which was to restore the Palace ensemble, focusing on the condition the Palace had been in the second half of the 18th century. The first renovated premises in the East wing opened to the public in 1981. Gradually, more interiors were added. The restoration of the Palace interior was completed in 2014.

The most important factor of the restoration of the Palace complex was the process of scientific restoration that started when the Museum was founded and has continued to this day, enabling the preservation of artistic and cultural historical values of architecture, as well as the spirit of the era. During the renovation process, simultaneous restoration of the facades and interiors was carried out, whilst also landscaping the territory and renovating other buildings in the complex. Restoration of the monumental interior décor can be considered the greatest achievement in preserving the authenticity of the Palace, which also set the standards of professional restoration in Latvia. Specialists from Leningrad were involved in the restoration of the Palace interiors in the 1970s, working under the supervision of restorer Rūdolfs Sausēns – an old master of Latvian origin and a winner of the Paris Gold Award. Sausēns formed the first group of the restoration apprentices of monumental painting in Latvia who then trained the next generation of professionals. Today some of the most active masters in this field are their students.

Regular garden renovation works should also be considered a success story in the ensemble's authenticity. Contrary to the prevailing trends, the Baroque garden designed by architect Rastrelli was not transformed into an English-style park in the 19th century and has preserved its layout over the centuries. Since alleys and hedges had been maintained and trimmed following the traditions of Baroque gardens up until the beginning of the 20th century, this enabled restoration of the Baroque garden as close as possible to its original image.

Since the Palace with its subsidiary buildings, artistic interior design and the garden have been recognised as an architectural and art monument of national significance, preservation of the authenticity and cultural historical values of the Rundāle Palace ensemble with a garden and forest park and its separate parts are now regulated by the Law on the Protection of Cultural Monuments. The status of a state protected monument was originally granted to Rundāle Palace on 31 August 1924 (No. 43). The universal value of Rundāle Palace was also recognized during the Soviet occupation and in the early 1950s it was included in the list of State Protected Monuments (No. 125) and became an architectural monument under the protection of the USSR state. The Palace retained the status of a National Protected Cultural Monument after the restoration of Latvia's independence. The Rundāle Palace Museum continues to manage the Palace, and its development strategy is based on preserving the authenticity of the complex and making the heritage accessible to the wider public.

The universal significance of the Rundāle Palace ensemble with a garden and forest park is further emphasized by its inclusion in the Latvian Culture Canon in 2009. The Palace is one of the 99 objects in the Canon described as shaping the cultural landscape and identity of Latvia and highlighted as a unifying and integrating element of the society.

Rundāle Palace has been assigned its own protection zone based on its status as a Cultural Monument with the following sub-zones: close influence zone of the landscape of the Rundāle Palace building ensemble; medium influence zone of the landscape of the Rundāle Palace building ensemble; and Pilsrundāle village building zone (neutral zone). The zoning of the cultural landscape protection and the regulations for the use and construction of the territory have also been incorporated into the spatial plan of the Rundāle municipality (Bauska municipality after the administrative-territorial reform of Latvia in July 2021) 2012–2025, approved on 26 July 2012.

The universal value of the Rundāle Palace ensemble with a garden and forest park is inextricably linked to the preservation of authenticity by maintaining and caring for its buildings and territory in accordance with the requirements of cultural heritage preservation.

The Rundāle Palace ensemble with a garden and forest park has preserved its historical, social and artistic character corresponding to the time of construction, bestowing upon it the authentic sense of a Baroque spirit (genius loci) and providing a special universal value to the site. This has been achieved because the ensemble was designed and its construction supervised by a single architect. Since there were no official building restrictions at the time, it was here that Francesco Rastrelli could design a harmoniously proportionate residence of a governor with a conceivably sized French garden. The limited subsequent alterations to the Palace complex have always been made with respect to its architectural and artistic value and focused on the preservation of objects without changing their historical capacities and by adapting them to new functions. The monument has remained practically unmodified to this day and is the only object that fully demonstrates the ideological values, aesthetic taste and artistic vision of the governors of the Duchy of Courland in the second half of the 18th century.

No internal or external threats to the integrity of the facility have been identified. Changes due to climate change are being cautiously estimated, for example – in the event of rising groundwater levels and increased wind damage.

Comparison with other similar properties

The Latvian National Register of UNESCO World Heritage does not include any equivalent objects to compare the nominee with.

Although Rundāle Palace is not the only palace of the Dukes of Courland belonging to the Biron family that has survived to the present day, it is the only palace with a high degree of authenticity and preserved integrity of the complex and the environment.

Evaluation of the Rundāle Palace Ensemble with a Garden and Forest Park in comparison to other ducal residencies of the Biron family

Jelgava Palace

The Duke’s main residence in Jelgava (1738–1740, 1764–1772) was also designed by architect Francesco Rastrelli who simultaneously worked on the construction of Rundāle Palace. According to archive documents, Jelgava Palace was not only larger but also more luxurious than Rundāle Palace. However, the fate of this building has been considerably less favourable. In 1788, a fire broke out in the Palace that destroyed half of the central building. The Palace was subsequently set on fire in 1919 and 1944. After these devastations, the building was restored whilst preserving the size of the Duke's palace and the appearance of facades as much as possible. Another annex was added to the building and the layout completely redesigned to adapt to the requirements of a higher education institution – currently the Latvia University of Life Sciences and Technologies is based in the Palace. Despite these reconstructions, the architectural volume of Jelgava Palace is one of the most striking manifestations of the mightiness of the Duchy of Courland. However, in terms of its authenticity and integrity, the Palace cannot be compared to the much better preserved Rundāle Palace building complex.

Vircava Manor House

Vircava Manor, the favourite residence of the last Duke of Courland, Peter, has reached the present day in a completely ruined state. It was rebuilt at the request of the Duke in the first half of the 1880s by Severin Jensen, architect in the court of Courland. Only the north-east wing of the manor building has remained to this day. The building was rebuilt in 1875 and adapted to the military needs of the Russian Empire. In 1919, the soldiers of Bermont-Avalov Army burned down the manor while the remaining walls were partially demolished. In the middle of the 20th century, the surviving wing was adapted to the requirements of mechanical workshops although presently only its ruins remain.

Svēte Manor House

Svēte Manor was built in 1774 and 1775 after reconstructing a small two-storey residential building following a project by architect Severin Jensen. The manor house stood out with its luxurious façade decoration, high-quality interior designed by Johann Michael Graff and two attached annexes housing a conservatory-painting gallery. After the Duchy of Courland was annexed by the Russian Empire, Svēte Manor became state property. Cavalry barracks were built in its territory, and the manor was completely rebuilt and its interior destroyed in 1870 when it was handed over to the Russian military. The building complex has preserved neither its historical integrity nor authentic magnitude and appearance.

Luste Palace

Luste Palace was built in the 1770s as the Duke's hunting lodge. Author of the building project was architect Severin Jensen. His handwriting was reflected in the character of the building – its compact, steep size corresponded to the style of Italian villas that Jensen had studied in Italy. It was a sophisticated amusement palace with luxurious interiors and the surrounding environment landscaped for hunting and walking. In 1780, it was renamed Friedrichslust to honour the visit of Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm of Prussia. After 1795, Luste was leased as a ‘crown’ manor. Interior decoration remained intact until World War II. The building was vandalised after the war and used in building materials. Currently only its walls have survived.

Zaļāmuiža Manor House

Zaļāmuiža (Zaļenieki) Manor House was built on the site of a hunting residence of the Duke of Courland. Its construction began in 1768 and finished in 1774. It is thought that the design was developed by architect Francesco Rastrelli and completed by Severin Jensen. In comparison to other ducal properties, the interior of this hunting lodge was modestly restrained. A picturesque English-style park with a natural terrain, ponds and canals was created next to the Manor House. After 1795 it became a private property and has survived to this day albeit with layout changes and interior alterations. The building was used a school from 1920 and Zaļenieki Commercial and Craft Secondary School currently operates on its premises. However, in terms of its scope and magnificence the building does not equal the Rundāle Palace ensemble with a garden and forest park.

Evaluation of Rundāle Palace Ensemble with a Garden and Forest Park in comparison to other historical palace building ensembles

The uniqueness of the Rundāle Palace ensemble with a garden and forest park is rooted in the fact that it was built as a residence for a governor of a small and independent state, and it was designed and supervised by an outstanding architect thus creating a harmonious and proportionately balanced environment with an easily recognisable sense of place characteristic to the Baroque period. Rastrelli's oeuvre has been highly regarded in all historical periods and has ensured the authenticity and integrity of the complex to this day, allowing its visitors to enjoy the special genius loci of the site.

Although there were countless governors’ residences in Europe during the Baroque and Rococo periods in the 17th and 18th centuries, only a few of the restoration works and adaptation of complexes to new functions have been as harmonious as in Rundāle Palace.

UNESCO World Heritage List includes 13 sites with a similar set of features that could also apply to the Rundāle Palace ensemble with a garden and forest park.

No.

Year of inscription in UNESCO

Name of the object

Country

1

1979

Palace and Park of Versailles

France

2

1981

Würzburg Residence with the Court Gardens and Residence Square

Germany

3

1984

Castles of Augustusburg and Falkenlust at Brühl

Germany

4

1987

Blenheim Palace

Great Britain

5

1990

Historic Centre of Saint Petersburg and Related Groups of Monuments

Russia

6

1990

Palaces and Parks of Potsdam and Berlin

Germany

7

1991

Royal Domain of Drottningholm

Sweden

8

1996

Palace and Gardens of Schönbrunn

Austria

9

1996

Lednice-Valtice Cultural Landscape

Czech Republic

10

1997

18th-Century Royal Palace at Caserta with the Park, the Aqueduct of Vanvitelli, and the San Leucio Complex

Italy

11.

1997

Residences of the Royal House of Savoy

Italy

12.

1998

Gardens and Castle at Kroměříž

Czech Republic

13.

2019

Royal Building of Mafra – Palace, Basilica, Convent, Cerco Garden and Hunting Park (Tapada)

Portugal

 

By analysing the UNESCO World Heritage List by the year of inscription of the above sites, it becomes obvious that the most intense period was in the 1980s and 1990s (11 nominations). It was also a time of geopolitical change in Europe – the end of Cold War and the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The power centres changed and national states began to strengthen their positions in terms of the most significant achievements in the world cultural heritage after assessing their own historical contribution.

It is evident from the list that most of the inscribed residences represent former superpowers with riches for instigating cultural and artistic achievements historically accumulated from colonies and unlimited resources in their home lands. In this respect, the governors of some German Länder (2 and 3) stand out, as their residences were impressive enough to be equated to royal residences elsewhere.

Two thirds of the inscribed sites based their nominations on the magnificent scale of the Baroque and Rococo buildings and the quality of their artistic presentation, as well as the effect of each complex as a model for building other governors' residences (1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 10, and 12). Some of the sites represent a wider construction plan (urban) or a nature region alteration plan and provides evidence of the governors’ strategic thinking (5, 6, 9, 10, 11 and 13). However, all these residences have served as a symbol of status and power of the governor. This is demonstrated by the scale of residencies, as well as the range of engaged architects and artists. Representation of the Baroque period as a manifestation of absolutism has been clearly achieved in these objects, albeit at the sacrifice of artistic unity. By constantly attracting the newest and best artists to supplement and improve the complex, competition between creative personalities is inevitable. It has led to new stylistic solutions that have been adopted in other architectural objects, whilst simultaneously disrupting the ensemble’s harmony in terms of its relationship with space and environment, and artistic presentation. The Rundāle Palace ensemble with a garden and forest park is the only authentic monument in comparison to similar objects inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List, the entire project of which was developed by one architect who also supervised the construction process and garden landscaping. The commensurate proportions of the building and the preserved garden should be noted as the most significant benefits that inspire the visitors of the Palace and elicit an all-embracing enjoyment of the Baroque style genius loci without the overbearing effect of the magnitude of absolutism.

A similar construction principle was applied to Würzburg Residence in Bavaria, Germany (2) with its palace built under the supervision of one architect, Balthasar Neumann. However, its history differs. Würzburg Palace was burnt down in World War II and all interiors destroyed. Its artistic décor was reconstructed between 1945 and 1987. It was inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List while still in the process of reconstruction as a symbolic confirmation of the Residence's outstanding artistic value and a way of preventing further threat of destruction to Germany's cultural heritage.

Meanwhile in the grand royal palace in Caserta (10) near Naples, designed by Italian architect Vanvitelli, other architects continued construction works after the author's death in 1773, however the project was not fully implemented. This residence more than any other is characterized by gigantomania as a demonstration of absolutism.

The most internationally renowned buildings by architect Francesco Rastrelli are already included in the nomination of the historical centre of St. Petersburg and a related group of monuments (Winter Palace or Hermitage, Peterhof Palace and Catherine Palace in Tsarskoye Selo). However, none of the buildings in St. Petersburg and its neighbourhood demonstrates the work of Rastrelli's early period when his characteristic building style emerged. All the residences and their ensembles designed by the architect in the 1720s and 1730s were supplemented and rebuilt during the 18th and 19th centuries. Thus, the complex of Rundāle Palace is unique not only in Latvia but also internationally as the only authentic building of Rastrelli's early period.

The UNESCO nominations of governors’ residences are geographically concentrated in Western, Southern and Central Europe. The Northern European region is represented only by the secluded Drottningholm Palace near Stockholm in Sweden. This residence was built on the site of another 16th century building, adapting it to new stylistic requirements. In comparison to Drottningholm, which has never been directly subjected to military conflicts and ideological periods of renunciation of cultural heritage values, as was the case in the former Soviet Union, the preservation of the Rundāle Palace complex in its authentic form is tantamount to a miraculous providence.