The foundations of the current building were laid by the Duke of Kurzeme Ernst Johan Biron, who in 1737 ordered the Russian Court architect Rastrelli to design a new residence in the baroque style. Rastrelli also designed the famous Rundāle Palace, the Peterhof Palace and the Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg. In 1919, the Jelgava Palace was burned down by soldiers of the Bermont-Avalov army troops who fought against the independence of the young Latvian Republic.
The palace was restored, but later destroyed again in the flames of World War Two. After the war, the palace was restored and now the Latvia University of Agriculture is located here. Excavations have been done in the palace, during which coins, Dutch pipes, tiles and cast-iron columns have been found. Although the palace was handed over to students, the former owners rest in peace here as well – one of the palace buildings is the Dukes’ sepulchre, where 24 persons from the Ketlers dynasty and six persons from the Biron dynasty are buried.
This is also the burial place of the first Duke of Kurzeme Gothard Ketler – the sarcophagus made in 1587 that houses his remains is the most precious object in the sepulchre. The sepulchre has been restored and is open to visitors.
The Jelgava Palace Park was started in 1817 in the place of the former palace ramparts. The park set up on the palace island has romantic canals, bridges, palace buildings and the Governor’s islet, making it one of the most beautiful parks in Jelgava. Some old trees also grow in the park – horse chestnuts, an oak and a grey aspen.
In addition, there is another unique object to be seen at the palace – a herd of wild horses on the palace’s isle. Jelgava can be conveniently reached from Riga (44 kilometres) by train, bus or car.