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.
Have a wonderful weekend!