Duke Jacob and the portal


In the centre of Kuldiga town in Latvia, there is a portal with Duke Jacob Kettler stuck inside. On my stay in Latvia in 2013, we went to Kuldiga to attend an annual festival, and it is where I first met the Duke and learned his fascinating story.

Born in 1610 in Kuldiga ( then Goldingen), Jacob was the godson of King James I of England. He studied in Rostock and Leipzig University, traveled Europe and learned many useful skills. In 1642 he became Duke of Courland, and his knowledge and willpower helped him build ‘Curonian Empire’. Manufacturing and international trade bloomed under his rule, and he also started shipbuilding. In 1651 he sent a fleet to build Fort Jacob on the Gambia river in West Africa. In 1654 he conquered Tobago. The colony on Tobago was named Neu Kurland (New Courland) and consisted of 80 families and soldiers.

In the beginning of the 17th century, Australia was discovered and claimed by the Dutch. Duke Jacob decided to colonize Australia, and got a blessing from the Pope Innocent X. Unfortunately the Pope soon died and the new Pope didn’t support that plan.

During the Northern Wars, Duke and his family were taken prisoners by Swedes in 1658. In the next two years his colonies were attacked and taken away, and his fleet destroyed, but after the War ended, Duke Jacob rebuilt the fleet and retook Tobago from the Dutch. He died in 1682, and was remembered as a just ruler who knew Latvian language.

This is the castle guard’s house that was built in 1735 using the rocks from the Duke’s castle that was destroyed by Swedes in 1702.



Beautiful brick bridge across the river Venta was designed by an engineer Friedrich Stapprany and built in 1874.  It is one of the longest and widest brick bridges in Europe, enough for two carriages going in opposite directions to pass each other. A beautiful piece of architecture surrounded by gorgeous scenery.


View from the bridge.


Ventas Rumba, a 2m high and 240-270m long rapid is on the other side of the bridge. I am standing in the place where the Duke’s castle used to be. In his reign, local fishermen placed baskets over the waterfall to catch the migrating vimba fish.  Annual Flying Fish festival takes place in April to celebrate the ancient fishing practice.

PS I didn’t cross the river.


River Aleksupite runs through the old town winding between the walls of the old buildings. There was a special lottery going on at the festival. You could buy a plastic ball with a number, and together with the other participants, toss it in the river. There is a very slim chance that your number wins – only five balls reached the finish line.


After the lottery is over, the famous Aleksupite race starts…


… followed by the carnival. This Bacchus caught my eye 🙂


I was also amused by the Duke and his escort.


Piratenkoor De Stormvogels from The Netherlands gave a fantastic performance.


Some viking stuff for sale.


Visitors and locals enjoying the day.


Viking food cooked in the open air.


I guess you have noticed how tidy is the town during the festival that attracted thousands of visitors. This reflects the local mentality – there are special programs that teach people not to litter, and no one in their right mind would do that. Only a drunk person might drop a cigarette butt, occasionally, because I did see a few cigarette butts on the pavement during my stay. A few. But I have seen many people of all ages and genders who put their tiny ticket in the bin after leaving public transport. I don’t want to tell that all the people of  Latvia are perfect, though 🙂 There are many very aggressive and quite impolite drivers there, but if you decide to visit, you will be very impressed as to the tidiness of this quite poor country, and the resourcefulness and optimism of the people.

Two more blog posts about Latvia to follow.

inesemjphotography Have a wonderful weekend!


  1. What a fabulous place to visit! And very tidy. I think it’s very forward-thinking of their communities that they have anti-littering programs. We should have those worldwide. As much as I love castles, I could quite easily move into the castle guard house! I loved all your photos of the people dressed up and parading through the river!

  2. I think I would have liked Duke Jacob – the line that he was remembered as a just ruler is something you do not hear so often around that time period, and then just based on all his ideas/development…it makes me wonder if he was a time traveler with the knowledge he had. I like how you ended with the carnival…my idea of relaxation 🙂 Cheers to a great week Inese!

    1. Thank you Randall! Duke was a very capable ruler indeed, and very persistent. As to the time traveling, I sincerely believe it is possible.
      It is amazing that locals use the river, not the streets, for their annual races and carnival. I haven’t seen anything like that nowhere else. The masks were very creative – mostly fairy tales, mythology or historical characters.
      Have a wonderful week you too! 🙂

  3. Fascinating post, Inese. I loved the Australian connection. Your photo of Bacchus and the Duke and his escorts were great. I wonder who bought the Viking tools? They look authentically dangerous.

    1. Thank you for stopping by! 🙂 The viking market was diverse and picturesque. It was, actually, international, because the festival attracted visitors from the neighboring countries with the viking history. I don’t know if someone bought the tools, but viking jewelry was very popular 🙂
      River races and carnival is something I have never seen before. The costumes were so fun 🙂 Hundreds of people took part. I had spent all the day there, shooting 🙂

  4. Great festival and a beautiful place. Thanks for sharing, Inese. I hope you’re enjoying your holidays and you come back refreshed and with even more pictures!

  5. Charming country! I enjoyed reading about the Duke and the resourceful Latvians. Your photographs are lovely, as are your words. I think rude drivers are found everywhere, unfortunately. It sounds like you encountered them there! The portal is striking and certainly caught my attention; luring me to read and learn from your travels. Very clever of you, Inese! It sounds like you’re feeling better, I hope!

    1. Thank you, I am feeling well 🙂 Half of my holidays is gone, it makes me sad, because I see my family only twice a year. So, another two post about my 2013 trip to Latvia will follow, to cover my online absence 🙂
      Latvia is a tidy country indeed, and if you decide to visit, I can share some tips and online resources.

      1. I’m glad you’re feeling well! Enjoy the rest of your holiday with your family and know that the memories you’re creating with them now will be replayed in their hearts and minds forever — as if you’re always there. ❤ Thank you Inese! I'll certainly think of you if we decide to visit Latvia.

  6. Fascinating history! Duke Jacob was quite a character and did a lot for the country.The carnival looks amazing, and just the sort of thing I love to visit. The characters and activities look so much fun, as do all the wonderful displays of Viking goods and cooking skills. And all in such a great place without the awful litter we see in so many places. I hope your holiday is wonderful, Inese. It will do you the world of good.

    1. Thank you Millie! Unfortunately, all this fun took place three years ago 🙂 I have put up three blog posts about Latvia – meanwhile, all my time belongs to my family in the US :).

  7. I love historical stories and well written. It brought me back in time with my imaginative mind. 😉 Great photos. Blessings! Diane

    1. Thank you Diane! History is a fascinating matter. Grateful for those who preserved historical records for us to learn our past. xx

  8. It was interesting to read about the Duke and his story. Looking back from our modern vantage point, founding colonies in places that were already inhabited doesn’t sound like such a good thing to do, but I know that, as well as for gaining access to resources, it was also one of the ways contries of the time showed their status. I imagine it may almost have been expected of competent leaders to try and found them.

    1. It is what I think too. At that time, Goldingen was a part of Polish Kingdom de-jure, but because of the contracts the duke signed with many foreign countries, the duchy was quite independent. New colonies would definitely contribute to that status.

  9. The beauty fro.standing on the bridge took my breath away! I enjoyed the fascinating story of a man who overcame odds to rebuild so much of what he lost. The Duke had such amazing perseverance, willpower and strength! Those celebrating in the water and having fun made such a light-hearted addition to this post, Inese. 🙂

    1. Thank you Robin! He had such great ambitions, and then suffered a total loss during the Second Northern War, but never gave up. It is why he is still remembered as a great leader. I was really impressed with his story. 🙂

      1. Never give up, such a great “mantra” to say to oneself. The costumes and fun, along with the Viking tools and food were the different elements which Was came back for a second look! Have a great day, Inese. 🙂

  10. The story of the Duke was fascinating to read! Then when I read of the Vikings, I thought, has Shehanne seen this? Yes, I see in the comments section that she loved the post too 😀 HUGS

    1. Julian, I am sorry for the misunderstanding. English is not my native language, it is probably the reason. After Australia was discovered, Duke Jacob wanted to establish colonies there. It is what I am saying. May be you try to read that part again and point me my grammar mistake? I would be very grateful.
      Best wishes

  11. That statue fascinates me–that image alone is an inspiration for a story.
    A lovely read, and, for the record, I would not have dared cross that river, either. I do so adore your adventures. 🙂

    1. Thank you Jean! It was a great day, and I learned so much. I have another two posts written about that trip around Latvia.

  12. Inez, Another place I will probably never get to visit, so thank you for the wonderful armchair visit. I wonder if George Lucas of Star Wars fame ever visited this town. There is a scene with Hans Solo stuck that looks an awful lot like the sculpture of the Duke.

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