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Alsunga (Alšvanga) castle

For the first time in the written sources, the name of Alšvanga has been mentioned in the agreement between Balduin from Alna, the Papal vice legate and the Curonians of December 28, 1230. According to this agreement, the Curonians undertook to convert to the Christian faith, provide for the sent churchmen, pay tributes, participate in defensive and offensive wars against the pagans. In return for them freedom was promised as long as they did not apostatize from the Catholic Church. A bishop with a seat in Klaipeda was appointed for Courland. According to this treaty approved by Pope Gregory IX on February 11, 1232, the Curonian lands came under the direct protection of the Pope of Rome. The only copy of this agreement is currently kept in the Vatican archives. In addition to Alshwang (Aliswange), it also mentions other Curonian towns such as Thargolara, Osua, Langis, Venelis, Normis, Kiemala, Plugawas, Sarnitus, Riwa, Saceze, Edualia, Ardus and Alostantochos.

The history of Alšvanga itself is much older. A cultural layer with pre-German ceramics has been found in excavations at Alsunga Castle. On the other hand, ceramic shards on the castle mound next to the castle allows us to claim that this mound was inhabited already 2500 years ago.

The first indications of a fortified place of the German brothers of the Livonian order in Alšvanga date from 1341, when according to reports to the Master of the order about the situation in the Komtury, the Komtur of Kuldīga has a fortified stone house (ein festes haus) in Alšvanga, which could have been built shortly before that year. In Alšvanga this year, cattle disease is raging, there are 40 mares and 12 foals in the stables.

In 1372, a four-cornered stone castle was already built, subordinate to the Kuldīga komtur. The eastern building of the castle wass used for living, and the southern building for household purposes. Two towers were added later. The end of the 14th century, the beginning of the 15th century is considered to be the time of construction of the northeastern tower. At the beginning, the tower had only two above-ground floors and was at the same height as the Eastern building of the castle.

Only when the second floor of the Southern building was already built in its entire length, the second tower of the castle was added at its southwestern corner in the 16th century. It had three floors, one more than the adjacent South Building of the castle. Apparently, the inhabitants of the castle believed that their security was more guaranteed by the tower near the Eastern building than the southwestern tower, so at the same time as the latter, two more floors were built for the northeastern tower of the castle, so that it was already two floors higher than the residential building of the castle.

In a document dated 1555, it is written that Durbe, Aizpute, Alšvanga, Skrunda, Kuldīga, Sabile – all these houses (castles), except Kuldīga, have not been fortified, are not inhabited and have been turned into grain warehouses.

After the collapse of the Livonian Order, Gotthard Kettler, its last master, pledged the Kuldīga region to Poland, separating Alšvanga and around 1560, giving it as a fiefdom to his adviser, the knight Friedrich von Kanitz, who in 1569 was the duke’s envoy to the Polish parlicament in Lublin.

In 1573 (according to another source, on February 10, 1574), Friedrich von Kanitz sold the Alšvanga and surrounding area to the son of the Duke of Prussia’s advisor, Marshal of Courland and Semigallia, Jacob von Schwerin, who also bought the current Jūrkalne area and thus expanded its borders to the sea. At that time, Alšvanga also included Grāveri, Blintene, Gudenieki, Jaunā muiža, Bases, Dekšņi (Audzes) and Pilsberga or Jūrkalne (Jorceim). After him, Alšvanga was inherited by two more Jacobs von Schwerin.

Johann Ulrich, the son of Jacob von Schwerin, locally called Svirīš, while living in Vilnius and serving in the Polish army as an officer (commander of the Royal Cavalry Squadron) had met the beautiful Polish woman Barbara Konarska at a court ball. Duchy nobles in the Polish war service often married the daughters or widows of Polish nobles and, influenced by them, some also converted to the Catholic faith. Already during the time of Duke Friedrich, the position of the Catholics in Courland was so strong that they began to take away church buildings from existing Lutheran congregations, using the property rights of the nobles.

Before his wedding, in 1623, Johann Ulrich von Schwerin converted to Catholicism, as this was a prerequisite for marriage by the bride’s parents. Since Johann Ulrich’s father Jacob did not agree with his son’s conversion, after the wedding the young couple had to stay in the estate of Barbara’s parents, manor of Count Konarski in Gintališkė, Lithuania. Later, Count Johann Urich von Schwerin was appointed Chamberlain to King Sigismund III of Poland. Only after his father’s death in 1632 did he and his wife return to Alšvanga, where he devoted himself with fanatical zeal to the conversion of the inhabitants of his land to the Catholic faith. In the same year (according to other data, in 1634) he handed over the Alšvanga church together with the branch church in Pilsberģe (present-day Jūrkalne) to the Catholic congregation. In order to spread and preach the Catholic faith, Johann Ulrich von Schwerin invited the Jesuits, who helped to convert the peasants.

At first, the other nobles were not particularly interested in all this, because Ulrich von Schwerin acted within the limits of the law. However, in 1636 (according to other data, in 1634) when the church and also the priest’s manor were transferred, the case came to an open armed conflict. Bishop of Samogitia, Georg Tiskevich got involved, the old Lutheran priest Lysander was expelled from his apartment. The solution to this dispute was reached only after the Polish king Władysław IV Vasa personally intervened, approving both churches – Alšvanga and Pilsberģe – for Catholics. Johann Ulrich, according to local legends, died from poison added to the food during a meeting with neighbouring Lutheran nobles in the Reģi manor in May 1637. It is said that he was lured to the Reģi manor with the promise that the signing of the agreement on the return of the Ēdole church to the Catholics would take place there.

During the time of Duke of Courland Friedrich, an economically active village sprang up next to Alšvanga Castle, whose prosperity grew rapidly and which was an important settlement between the ports of Ventspils and Liepāja. This changed when Johann Ulrich von Schwerin re-introduced the Catholic faith and forced the inhabitants of the city to abandon Lutheranism. Those who resisted were driven out of the city. Almost all merchants and craftsmen left and the village languished throughout the 17th century. The owners settled peasants and artisans in the village, but with their Catholic fanaticism they were still unable to revive the economic activity.

After the death of Johann Ulrich von Schwerin in 1637, the Alšvanga manor was inherited by Johann Felix von Schwerin. After him, the next owner (year unknown) was Christoph Johann von Schwerin. In 1681, Alschwang was inherited by Johann Antonius von Schwerin.

When the Swedes invaded Alšvanga in 1659 during the Polish-Swedish war (1655-1660), there were two Polish companies there. The Swedes came from Kuldīga in the month of March, drove the Poles out, taking 40 of them captive, took away two flags and looted the village. Courland general Bergs, on the other hand, with 300 horsemen and many Latvian peasants attacked the Swedes, destroyed most of them, freed the prisoners and took away the loot. According to the legends, it was in this year that the Alšvanga old castle mound was built so that there would be a place to set up cannons for the Swedish firing. In this war, Alšvanga Castle was largely destroyed. It is believed that it was in this battle, that the original residential East building of the castle was destroyed, which was never rebuilt after that. Sources from the beginning of the 18th century indicate that only the Southern building is habitable in the castle and the Eastern building is no longer mentioned in them.

In 1728, Vladislav Georg von Schwerin inherited Alschwang, who in 1738 (also mentioned in 1767) was forced to sell his entire property to Ernest Johann Biron, who, in turn, became the Duke of Courland in 1737. The new owner leased out the manor to various Courland nobles. Consequently, inventory acts were periodically drawn up about the state of the castle, which have survived to our days.

In the 1740 inventory of Alschwang Castle, it is mentioned that the north-eastern tower of the castle is free-standing and in relatively good condition, covered with roof tiles. Only part of the walls of the first floor and some vaults have survived from the Eastern building. The southern building was in a bad condition covered by shingles. The entrance to the building was from the eastern end and only the first four rooms were occupied. In the other rooms, the ceiling had caved in. The south-west tower is no longer in use, but the enclosure is said to have badly decayed its north and west walls.

In 1741, the reconstruction of the southern part of the Alšvanga Castle started by the new owner was completed. Its roof had already been covered with roof tiles. The main entrance with a new staircase has been on the side of the courtyard towards the middle of the building. During the repair of the South building, the design of the windows was also changed. At the eastern end of the hull, traces of sandriks are still clearly visible. They were made of bricks embedded in grooves carved into the wall. There were two types – flat triangular and segmental sandriks, arranged alternately above the windows. In the interior, some door leaves from those times have been preserved with baroque-shaped fillings and forged hinges in the form of an acanthus leaf.

In the inventory of 1744, it is mentioned that there is only one toilet in the whole castle, which could be entered from the round tower. In 1757, the second one was mentioned at the eastern end of the building, and in 1763, the third one was mentioned on the outer wall of the chimney chamber.

Only in the second half of the 18th century, when the ecclesiastical policy of the Schwerins came to an end, the town of Alšvanga recovered and began to develop economically again.

In 1795, after the Douchy of Courland was annexed by Russia, an audit was carried out in the Alšvanga manor, in which the Western and Northern buildings of the castle were mentioned, which could have been built some time between 1763 and 1795. In the Northern building, three horse stables under one roof. It is also mentioned that a building (the so-called Schwerin Hall) was added to the Eastern end of the Southern Building several years ago, but it has not yet been completed. Also in the act of 1854, it is still mentioned as unfinished, indicating that only two rooms were planned for it – one room and a hall. The unfinished building is also depicted in the drawings of the castle by K. Vilong in 1827 and V. Z. Stavenhagen in 1866. It is not known when this building was demolished. In 1796, the Russian state paid 100,000 Albert dalers for Alšvanga to the Duke of Courland, Peter Biron, as compensation for lost property.

After the annexation, from 1796 until 1915, Alšvanga belonged to the Russian state (crown). Crown estates were managed by the Crown Property Administration, renting them out to various tenants. Leases were short, not exceeding 12 years. The fact that the peasants, their houses and land were the property of the state and not of a private nobleman provided the peasants with greater freedom, which sometimes explains the lack of humility, directness of language and expression, as well as stubbornness characteristic of the Suiti people.

In 1915, an offspring of the Schwerin family visited Alšvanga for the last time. In 1922, the Western and Southern buildings of the Castle passed under the control of the parish municipality. The association of dairy farmers and a cooperative was established. The Southern part of the castle was inhabited, the Eastern part was ruined. The Northern and Western wings were rebuilt for economic purposes. In 1923, the Northern part of the castle was handed over to the dairy society by the municipal parish board.

In 1925, the parish board decided to hand over one end of the castle’s West building to the needs of a pre-school, and the other end to the use of premises for the needs of local public associations. In the Northern part of the castle (former stables), a dairy operation was started, and a shop and apartments are also set up there. In 1926 (according to other data, in 1927) a hall with a stage was built above the old cellars on the place of the Eastern building – the Alšvanga Cultural Center. It was used by the Alšvanga Culture Foundation.

In 1938, the Western wing of the Alšvanga castle was rebuilt for school purposes, restoring the old walls and building a second floor. The official opening of the school took place a year later. The contractor who won the lowest bid for the construction of the school had bid such a low price that he was forced to go bankrupt after the completion of the building. The school operated in the castle until 1986, when it moved to the newly built secondary school building.

In 1956, the north-eastern tower of the castle was repaired. Detailed measurements of the castle were made. The People’s Court was located in the Southern building. At the end of the 1970s, the Southern part of the castle became uninhabited. Old cellars were used by residents to store potatoes. For the last decades, the Alsunga castle has been used for different purposes by the municipality, which is also the owner of most of the castle. The North Building is private.

Alsunga castle is an architectural and cultural monument of national importance. The Southern building contains many objects of cultural and historical value, as well as one of the oldest original interiors in Courland. There is an exposition on the history of Alsunga castle.