Summer 2004 (12.2)
The Ali and Nino Walking Tour
by Betty Blair and Fuad
(Pre-Soviet: Gorchakovskaya Street)
to Ali & Nino Walking Tour Index
residence occupies an entire city block and is located in one
of the prime locations of Baku close to the sea. Oil Baron Taghiyev
was in his 70s when he undertook the project of building this
opulent mansion, perhaps "palace" would be a more appropriate
term. He hired the Polish architect Joseph Goslavski to design
his home in the Italian Renaissance style. Construction took
place between 1893 and 1902.
The interior of this building is a must see - especially the
second floor Oriental Hall which is lavish but tastefully decorated
gallery with gilded arches and ceilings and enormous plate glass
windows. The building was so well constructed that the incredibly
beautiful hues of paint have never had to be restored for the
100 years of the existence of the building.
When the Bolsheviks came, Taghiyev thought they wouldn't touch
him. He was wrong. Like all of the other wealthy entrepreneurs
of the city, he had to flee his home and his property confiscated.
Fortunately, the building was so plush and ornate that the Soviets
did not subdivide it into numerous apartments, as was their usual
practice. Instead, they eventually designated this mansion to
house the National History Museum, a function that it still fulfills
today. The new archaeological exhibits on the first floor have
just been renovated, making it one of the most attractive museums
In "Ali & Nino", the Oriental Hall on the second
floor provides the setting for the graduation party of Taghiyev's
son. Ilyas was the real name of Taghiyev's youngest son by his
second wife Sona, exactly as he is depicted here in this novel.
Below: The Oriental Hall of Oil Baron Taghiyev's
Residence which is now Azerbaijan's National History Museum.
Highly recommended to visit. Most beautiful hall in Baku.
Ali & Nino, pages 31 ff.
Seinal Aga [Zeynal Agha Taghiyev, who today is the most famous
and beloved of Azerbaijan Oil Baron's and philanthropists] was
a simple peasant from the village of Binijady [Binagadi] near
Baku. He owned a plot of dusty dry desert land, which he farmed
until a little, everyday earthquake tore a cleft in his poor
farm, and from this cleft, rivers of oil gushed forth.
From then on, Zeynal Agha had no need to be crafty or clever:
he simply could not run away from his money. He spent it, generously
and lavishly, but more and more money accumulated, and was a
burden to him until it crushed him. He felt that sooner or later
punishment was bound to follow all this good luck, and he lived
his life waiting for this punishment, like a convict waiting
for his execution. He built mosques, hospitals, jails. He made
a pilgrimage to Mecca and founded children's asylums...
His 18-year-old wife, whom he had married at the age of 70, dishonored
him. He avenged his honor as he should have, cruelly and severely,
and became a tired man. His family fell apart, one son left him
[first marriage], and another brought unspeakable dishonor on
him by committing the sin of suicide [Mammad]. Now he lived in
the 40 rooms of his palace in Baku, gray sad and stooped. Ilyas
Bey ["Bey" is a title given to a male who owns property
or is considered wealthy. The term was not used during the Soviet
period, but now has regained popularity], the only son left to
him was one of our classmates, and so the ball was at Zeynal
Agha's house in the Big Hall [Oriental Room] with the ceiling
made of rock crystal.
At eight o'clock, I came up the wide marble staircase. Ilyas
Bey stood there, greeting the guests. He like myself was wearing
the Tsherkess [Circassian] costume with an elegant slender dagger
in his belt. From now on, we, too, were entitled to this privilege.
Left: Zeynalabdin's family with his second wife Sona
in their Baku residence. This hall was the setting for the High
School Graduation Party in the novel "Ali & Nino".
Ilyas who is a character in the novel is playing the cello in
the lower left hand corner. Leyla is at piano. Mammad at violin.
"Salam Alekum, Ilyas Bey!" I cried, and touched my
cap with my right hand. We shook hands the old native way: my
right hand pressed his right, his left my left. "Tonight
we'll close the Leprosarium," Ilyas Bey whispered to me.
I nodded gaily.
At last! Her voice from the staircase. "Good evening, Ilyas
Bey. I am a little late, but it is not my fault." I dashed
out. Nino was not wearing an evening dress nor the uniform of
the Lyceum of the Holy Tamar. From her shoulders hung a short
velvet waistcoat with golden buttons. Her waist was firmly laced
and so slim that I thought I could span it with one hand. A long
black velvet skirt reached down to her feet, showing the gilt
points of her kid slippers. Perched atop her head was a small
round cap and from it two rows of heavy gold coins hung over
her forehead. It was the ancient ceremonial robe of a Georgian
princess and hers was the face of a Byzantine Madonna. The Madonna
laughed. "No Ali Khan, you must not be angry. It takes hours
to lace this skirt. I have squeezed myself into it only in your
"The first dance with me!" cried Ilyas Bey.
Nino looked at me. I nodded. I dance badly and do not even like
it. And I can trust Ilyas Bey with Nino. He knows how to behave.
"Shamil's Prayer!" [A Lezginka dance named after Sheikh
Shamil, 1797-1871, an Avarian Revolutionary leader from Dagestan
who fought against the Czar] called Ilyas Bey to the musicians.
Immediately a wild melody arose. Ilyas Bey jumped into the middle
of the hall. He drew his dagger. His feet moved in the fiery
rhythm of the Caucasian Mountain Dance. The blade glittered in
his hand. Nino danced up to him. Her feet looked like small strange
toys. Shamil's Mystery began. We clapped to the rhythm of the
music. Nino was the bride to be abductedIlyas put the dagger
between his teeth. Like a bird of prey, his arms outstretched,
he circled around the girl.
Nino's feet flew, whirling round the hall, her supple arms depicting
all stages of fear, despair and submission. In her left hand,
she held a handkerchief. Her whole body trembled. Only the coins
on her cap lay quietly on her forehead, and that was the correct
way - this is the most difficult part of the dance.
No one but a Georgian girl can do such fantastically quick turns
and not let even one coin on her cap tinkle. Ilyas raced after
her. Without stopping, he chased her round and round. The wide
gestures of his arms became more and more dominating. Nino's
defensive movements more and more tender. At last she stopped,
like a deer overtaken by the hunter.
Closer and closer, Ilyas Bey circled. Nino's eyes were soft and
humble. Her hands trembled. A wild short howl from the music
and she opened her left hand. The handkerchief fluttered to the
floor. And suddenly Ilyas Bey's dagger flew on to the little
piece of silk and nailed it to the floor. The symbolic dance
By the way, did I mention that before the dance, I had given
Ilyas Bey my dagger and taken his? It was my blade that pierced
Nino's handkerchief. It is best to be on the safe side, for a
wise rule teaches: "Before you trust your camel to Allah's
protection, tie it securely to your fence."
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