Think a bunch of roses is romantic? Try building a palace. This is how one Baku oil baron showed his wife just how much he cared in 1912, with his neo-Gothic Palace of Happiness
Wow, what a grand gesture. What’s the story?
This spectacular building was originally called Mukhtarov Palace, named after its owners, but later known as the Palace of Happiness. The story goes that the Azerbaijani oil baron Murtuza Mukhtarov had it erected for his beloved wife, Lisa, after one of their frequent jaunts to Europe. While abroad, she fell in love with a French Gothic residence, allegedly gasping, “How happy the tenants of this building must be”. Her doting husband silently took note and arranged for a replica to be built in their home city of Baku. Within nine months it was realized and Mukhtarov unveiled it to Lisa – surprise!
Astonishing. So they lived happily ever after?
Not quite. The loved-up couple lived in their palace until 1920, when the Soviets invaded Azerbaijan. It is said that Mukhtarov shot some Russian officers when they forced their way into his home on horseback, before, tragically, killing himself.
What became of the building?
As one of the largest mansions in Baku, it has served a variety of purposes, including the base for a libertarian Muslim women’s club, a Shirvanshahs’ museum and as the Palace of Marriage Registrations, which remains its name and function today. Apt, really. It was granted status as a protected cultural monument, and in 2012 was completely restored. At the Venice Biennale in 2015 it even featured in Azerbaijan’s exhibition by art organization Yarat, entitled The Union of Fire and Water. Set in the Palazzo Barbaro, the formerly private residence of a Venetian ambassador who had travelled extensively in Azerbaijan, the installation looked at the history, culture, unity, love and conflict inherent within these prominent structures of Baku and Venice. No doubt this enduring legacy of love would have made Mr and Mrs Mukhtarov very happy indeed.
Photography by Emil Khalilov
This story appeared in the Autumn 2016 issue of Baku magazine.