Capital of Courland-Semigallia in Latvia


Jelgava (pop. 60 000) is the largest city in Semigallia region and Latvia’s 4th largest city.

It served as the capital of rich Duchy of Courland and Semigallia (1561-1795) which was rich enough to partake in the colonization fo Americas. Baroque Jelgava Palace (1772) is thus espeially massive and impressive from the outside, however its interior has been destroyed. Only the Ducal crypt may still be visited (offering a collection of elaborate sarcophagi). Rundale Palace (a very similar one to Jelgava and owned by the same dukes of Courland-Semigallia) has surviving interior and park and is merely 36 km from Jelgava.

A small part of massive Jelgava palace
A small part of massive Jelgava palace. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Before their fall to Russian annexation in 1795 the dukes of Courland-Semigallia also funded a Baroque Academia Petrina. Even after the collapse of the country it served as alma mater to many famous people of the entire Baltic region (such as president of Lithuania Antanas Smetona).

Academia Petrina of Jelgava
Academia Petrina with Russian Orthodox church of St. Simeon and Anna on the left. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Several churches (Russian-built St. Simeon and Anna Orthodox and a gothic revival Catholic) are located near Academia Petrina. Medieval Holy Trinity church between the Academia and the Palace was destroyed by Soviets but they left the tower (50 m) standing (observation platform and museum now available inside).

Roman Catholic church of Jelgava
Roman Catholic church surrounded by post-WW2 Soviet residentials. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

While some other stately buildings also remain, Jelgava has been greatly rebuilt under Soviet occupation, giving it a largely nondescript look.

A surviving 19th century building in Jelgava
A surviving 19th century building in Jelgava. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

A rather large intact area of 18th-19th century small buildings known as Old Town is located in the West of Jelgava. The streets there have been re-cobbled and some buildings restored (though others remain abandoned and the zone seems “died out”). Informational plaques have been built. St. Anne Lutheran church (the oldest building of Jelgava) is nearby.

Old Town of Jelgava
Old Town of Jelgava. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

A short distance from Riga (45 km to the downtown) made Jelgava a kind of semi-suburb.