Places we ‘Travel’: The Caucasus

Beril Alara Demirhan


My initial interest in this research comes from my family ties with Dagestan. My grandfather migrated to the Republic of Turkey with his uncle ‘Dağıstanlı Abdurrahman’ after the death of his parents in a rebellion against the Russian rule in the North Caucasus. They were the grandchildren of Hamzat Beg, who was the second Imam (head) of the Dagestani groups. This series of photos shows the items from Dagestan that belongs to our family.



Anna Drancy was born in rue des Acacias, Paris, in 1822. By 1843, she was married, but this marriage failed in eight years. After her marriage ended, Madame Drancy, as an energetic and courageous woman, decided to travel to Tbilisi to open a French Library. By the end of 1852, she arrived in Tiblisi. By midsummer 1853, relations between Russia and France were becoming strained, as signs of the Crimean War. Because of this tension, she faced hardships in terms of contacting with her family in Paris. Madame Drancy planned to travel back to Paris due to these unknown conditions of the upcoming war. However, she received an offer from a noble Georgian family to be a governess to their daughters and she changed her plans. After accepting this offer, she started to live with the Chavchavadze family. This series of visuals reflects the city of Tbilisi in the 19th century from paintings of artists. In addition, it shows photographs from the architectural scene in Tbilisi.


Princess Anna was one of the granddaughters of the last king of Georgia. She married Prince David Chavchavadze. Anna lived with her children, sister and cousins. In 1854, she decided to move to Tsinandali, the family estate in Kakheti, despite the risk of being closer to the group of Lezgins who were soldiers in an army of Imam Shamyl. Anna was both related to king of Georgia and married to a noble Chavchavadze family member. The importance of this family meant something very vital for Imam Shamyl, the head of the Dagestani groups. He was searching for someone or something to exchange with his son Cemalleddin who was captive in Tsar’s family since he was seven. Despite the risks of the Russian army being close to this district, the Lezgin group attacks and forces everyone in that dwelling to a challenging journey to the Aul of Imam Shamyl, as noble Georgian captives. This series of photos shows the Tsinandali house of Alexander Chavchavadze, who was a poet and a military figure. He is regarded as the founder of Georgian Romanticism. The landscape garden in Tsinandali is the first European-type recreation zone in Georgia. It was laid out by the landscape architects Alexander Chavchavadze invited from Europe. The garden is unique for its exotic plants and layout. Also, the wine cellar in this house was the first in Georgia. This palace and garden were burnt by Lezgins. It was reconstructed in 1886. The house is a museum now, and the wine cellars still exist and continue to produce wine.


Shouanete was the third wife of Imam Shamyl. She was living in an Armenian village before marrying the Imam. Because of the ongoing war with Russian forces, Shamyl and his family often moved. In some cases, the number of losses was so massive that the only escaping ones from the auls were Imam Shamyl’s family and few troops dedicated their life to him and their cause. The word ‘aul’ means village in many Turkic languages. In Dagestan, auls are generally built out of stone, on faces of ridges or against cliffs in order to provide protection against surprise attacks. Houses are usually two stories high, and they are staggered to make it virtually impossible for enemies to get anywhere on the roads. The houses generally have a southern aspect to take advantage of the sun in the winter and to be sheltered from the northern winds. Most of the auls of Dagestan had been demolished because they carried the potential to evoke the rebels against Russia.  In this series of photos, the remaining auls of the Dagestan were shown. These photos aim to exemplify the environment of the house that Imam Shamyl, his wife and the captives lived.


The capture of Princess Anna and Princess Varvara along with their kids and servants was labelled as a social disaster in Georgia and the news around Europe. The captives were exchanged with Cemalledin after eight months of struggle. The room they stayed in was described by Anna Chavchavadze when their captivity ends. This plan of Shamyl’s resident in aul of Dargi-Vedenno was sketched from the observations of Anna Chavchavadze in 1855. The texts around the map depict the rooms and inner court. Additionally, it gives clues about the daily life of the resident and Imam Shamyl. This series of texts are descriptions and quotations from Anna Chavchavadze’s interviews.

When they were led inside the quarters allotted to them, one of the cell-like rooms opening on to the main courtyard, they were confronted by a low-ceilinged, whitewashed room lit by an unglazed window ‘no bigger than a pocket-handkerchief – about a quarter of a square yard.’ They measured the room by pacing it, ‘eighteen shoes long and twelve broad,’.
The seraglio, or inner court, was centred around Shamyl’s own quarters: a separate building composed of three small rooms adjoining a little mosque. The women’s quarters, those of his wives and children and the prisoners, ran all around the court and opened on to the gallery.
The entrance gate was flanked by the treasury and a reception room, or selamlik, where Shamyl received his guests and conducted the affairs of his army and provinces − for he was as great a legislator, as warrior.
The aul was surrounded by three separate walls, or bastions, each pierced by a low portal barely high enough for a rider to pass under, even when crouched over his horse’s neck. But Shamyl never slackened his pace. As he approached each gate, he swung himself low over the horse’s side and at once rose again to stand in the stirrups, flinging himself down again only a second before reaching the next gate. It was the most dashing display of horsemanship the hostages had ever seen. 
The Imam’s rooms were not rewarding. A great number of books and manuscripts lined the walls which were whitewashed. Some Caucasian rugs covered the floor, while a collection of arms, kindjals and pistols hung beside the hooded chimney piece.
The rest of the seraglio was screened from these rooms by a partition, or high wooden paling jutting across the courtyard, from behind which the women peeped through the chinks at the coming and going of the outside world. They were not allowed to pass this barrier. The captives presently named it ‘the wall of jealousy’. A bakery, storeroom, stables and well completed the seraglio, making it a self-supporting unit within the outer aôul.


In 1859, Shamyl had surrendered and was welcomed very warmly in St. Petersburg. The people of the city, aristocrats, and many others were willing to meet Imam Shamyl. These visuals show the scenes from the life of Imam Shamyl and his family in Russian lands.

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