The Bauska Castle
“The 36th master of the German Order, Heidenreich Fink from Averberg was sent to replace Heinrich Schungel. He led two difficult military attacks against Russians and sacked their lands. He governed for nearly 14 years and built the Bauska Castle,” the chronicle Balthazar Rusov wrote. It is commonly assumed that work on the Bauska Castle began in 1443. The way in which the work proceeded may have been the following: the great tower and gate were first, then there were powerful walls to fortify the rear, and then the forecastle was erected in front of the gate with extensive barriers. The castle was built at a time when firearms were already in use, and that is seen in the gun apertures in the walls and the towers. The design of the castle itself was still based on old traditions, however.
The castle was planned as an irregular rectangle with the widest end to the West. The main components in the structure are its surrounding walls and towers. The building does not have individual segments, and apart from the forecastle to the East, there are no other external structures. Rooms for defence, residences and household needs were installed in the towers and additions along the walls.
Much attention was devoted to protecting the entrance of the building, and the two towers were meant for that purpose. The larger of the towers, to the South of the entrance, is semi-circular, and with the cellar, it has five stories. The floor of the cellar has a clay floor, and the walls are approximately 4 m high up to the barrel – vaulted brick ceiling. At the centre of the vault was a square aperture via which the cellar was accessed via stairs. The aperture was closed off later, and a narrow and curved entrance with a floor sloped toward the cellar was installed instead. Legend says that the entrance to the cellar was an underground passage to Mežotne or Jumpravmuiža. The truth, alas, is that it only led to a dreary Medieval prison.
The second floor was the main one. There was a large room inside, covered with a colourful four-pronged star vault made of brick. The entrance is in the western wall from a side annex. There were three semi-circular windows in the room to provide some light, and there were extensive and capacious niches at the sides of the room for installed closets. At the north-western corner there was room for a fireplace and a chimney, and at the south-western corner, there was the exit to a lavatory that was supported by firm wooden consoles outside the wall. The judicial representative of the dukes lived in this room.
For the time being, we do not know when work began on the new section of the Bauska Castle. Gothard Kettler died in 1587, and the castle was inherited by his son, Friedrich. The fact that the son continued with the father’s work is seen in the decision in 1587 to move the court of the duchy to Bauska the same year that Gothard passed away. The court and chancery of the duchy remained in Bauska until 1596, and that is seen as the year when the new castle was completed.
The construction provided the Bauska Castle with an entirely new section – a regularly shaped square building which was attached to the old castle on its western end. The new castle had three blocks and two corner towers at its eastern end to enclose the internal courtyard. The facades of the castle were decorated with the sgraffito technique and ornate stone carvings. The facade facing the eastern side of the castle was decorated with an impressive pediment. The yard was paved in stone. The gates were to the South, while the entrance to the main northern block from the courtyard was decorated with carved stone, an external staircase and a balcony.
The rooms inside the castle were decorated with wall paintings, wall coverings made of leather or textiles, ornate pot-bellied stoves, and floors made of board or ornamental and colourful ceramic tiles. The Bauska Castle Museum preserves rich collection of pot-bellied stoves, flagstones and other elements of interiors which are waiting for regeneration in presentable rooms of the dukes' residence.
In 1706, during the Great Northern War, the Russian military blew up a part of the castle, that section was never renewed, and it was never occupied again. Princes Lievens were owners of the castleruins in the 19th century, they started to use this beautiful place for public activities. The Latvia state continued this tradition in the 20–30ies of the 20th century.
Work on the research and restoration of the Bauska Castle began in the 1970s. The Bauska Castle Museum, which was
established in 1990, was charged with restoring the residence of the dukes of Kurzeme, and work began on preserving the ruins of the Livonian Order’s fortress. With financing from the European Regional Development Fund, the first phase of the reconstruction project was completed successfully in 2008. The roofs of the building were reconstructed, the facades were restored and reconstructed, and work was also done on interiors in the building. The second phase of the project is aimed at full restoration of the interiors of the duke’s residence, as well as of the paving of the courtyard and the impressive main entrance with its stairs and stone carvings.
Visitors to the site can tour the ruins of the Livonian Order fortress. There is a viewing area in the tower. There is an exhibition about the history of the castle, with the thematic displays “Apparel and Jewellery in the Duchy of Kurzeme (1562–1620)” and “The Bauska Castle: a Military Fortress”. The museum offers an educational programme on the subject of life at court in the late 16th century and the first half of the 17th century. There are also creative workshops in this regard. Performances of classical music are regularly staged at the castle.