Rundāle Palace (Latvian: Rundāles pils; German: Schloss Ruhental, formerly also Ruhenthal and Ruhendahl) is one of the two major baroque palaces built in the 18th century for the Dukes of Courland in what is now Latvia, the other being Jelgava Palace. It is situated at Pilsrundāle, 12 km west of Bauska. It was constructed in the 1730s to a design by Bartolomeo Rastrelli as a summer residence of Ernst Johann von Biron, the Duke of Courland. Following Biron's fall from grace, the palace stood empty until the 1760s, when Rastrelli returned to complete its interior decoration.
After Duchy of Courland and Semigallia was absorbed by the Russian Empire in 1795, Catherine the Great presented the palace to Count Valerian Zubov, the youngest brother of her lover, Prince Platon Zubov. He spent his declining years there after the death of Valerian Zubov in 1804. His young widow, Thekla Walentinowicz, a local landowner's daughter, remarried Count Shuvalov, thus bringing the palace to the Shuvalov family, with whom it remained until the German occupation in World War I when the German army established a hospital and a commandant's office there. The palace suffered serious damage in 1919 during the Latvian War of Independence. In 1920, part of the premises were occupied by the local school. In 1933, Rundāle Palace was taken over by the State History Museum of Latvia. It was dealt a serious blow after the World War II, when the grain storehouse was set up in the premises and later, the former duke's dining room was transformed into the school's gymnasium. Only in 1972 permanent Rundāle Palace Museum was established.
The palace is one of the major tourist destinations in Latvia. It is also used for the accommodation of notable guests, such as the leaders of foreign nations. The palace and the surrounding gardens are now a museum.
Europe is generally agreed to be the birthplace of western culture, including such legendary innovations as the democratic nation-state, football and tomato sauce.The word Europe comes from the Greek goddess Europa, who was kidnapped by Zeus and plunked down on the island of Crete. Europa gradually changed from referring to mainland Greece until it extended finally to include Norway and Russia.Don't be confused that Europe is called a continent without looking like an island, the way the other continents do. It's okay. The Ural mountains have steadily been there to divide Europe from Asia for the last 250 million years. Russia technically inhabits "Eurasia".Europe is presently uniting into one political and economic zone with a common currency called the Euro. The European Union originated in 1993 and is now composed of 27 member states. Its headquarters is in Brussels, Belgium.Do not confuse the EU with the Council of Europe, which has 47 member states and dates to 1949. These two bodies share the same flag, national anthem, and mission of integrating Europe. The headquarters of the Council are located in Strasbourg, France, and it is most famous for its European Court of Human Rights. In spite of these two bodies, there is still no single Constitution or set of laws applying to all the countries of Europe. Debate rages over the role of the EU in regards to national sovereignty. As of January 2009, the Lisbon Treaty is the closest thing to a European Constitution, yet it has not been approved by all the EU states. Text by Steve Smith.