After concluding our visit to Estonia we headed south to the capital of Latvia, Riga. Riga was established in 1201. The city has a long history over the years, it has played host to a number of different groups from Vikings to German merchants. Riga’s one unique claim to fame, is that the Christmas tree tradition was started there by the city’s German residence.
After exploring the city’s old town and river front we decided to head to Latvia’s country side. Our destination was about 1 hour from Riga. Just outside the village of Bauska there is a large palace called Rundāle Palace. Rundāle Palace was build for the Duke and Duchess of Courland in 1730. After Courland was annexed by the Russian empire the palace was given as a gift by Catherine the Great to Count Valerian Zubov, the youngest brother of one of her lover, Prince Platon Zubov. I imagine it must have been nice to know people is really high places. Although I was interested in exploring this beautiful bulding I had another reason for visiting this place.
Rundāle Palace served as a German hospital in WWI. In the West when you ask most people about WWI. If they even know anything at all, it is likely to be something about the Western Front. The Eastern front of the Great War has almost been forgotten about. The truth is the fighting on the Eastern front in the Great War was every bit as terrible and viscous as what was experienced in the West. The Russian invaded East Prussian in 1914. They did make some gains but the German Imperial forces struck back. In 1915 the Germans along side their Austro-Hungarian allies pushed the forces of the Russian empire back from Lithuania all the way to into Latvia they were finally stopped at what became known as the Riga-Jakobstadt-Dünaburg line. This line held until the Russian collapse in 1917. In 1915 Rundāle Palace was occupied and set up as German headquarters for the region, and hospital for casualties coming in from the Eastern front.
The room above was filled with hospital beds for German, and even Russian soldiers who had been wounded. It must have been quite a difference for wounded soldiers coming from the muddy Latvian trenches to this beautiful hall. These halls are quite today but back in between 1915 and 1918 it would have been a busy place with nurses, medics, orderlies and doctors caring for the wounded that were brought in.
As I wondered around the hall one of the interesting things I encountered was a few small reminders of the palace’s past as a Great War hospital. In one of the rooms if you know where to look there are the names of both Russian and German soldier’s carved into the wall’s plaster
These names were carved in all likelihood by boarded soldiers trying to pass the time while recovering from their wound’s
I asked one of the workers if they could tell me where the operating theater has been located but they were unsure.
The carving above is particularly impressive. The soldier who did this must have had some time on his hands. There are a lot of details in this carving, from the lugs on his M16 helmet, his puttees down to the buttons on the 1910 tunic.
I was able to learn that the palace gardens did have a German Great War cemetery. This would have been where soldier who had died while being treated for their wounds at the palace were laid to rest. Sadly I learned that during the Latvian war for independence in 1919 the Palace was sacked and the cemetery was destroyed. Some fragments of the grave stones were located during the renovation of the palace gardens, and were saved. They are now on dispaly in the Palace basement.
I went out to the gardens to see if I could locate the spot where the cemetery had once stood. After a little searching I located the spot.
It now has a small monument built where the remains of a number of German and a few Russian soldiers are buried.
Although Rundāle Palace is not a battlefield it does serves as a reminder of the many men who fought and died on the Eastern Front during the Great War.