“We were standing on the wall that encircled the monastery and looked down on the town. The Kura valley was filled with a blue mist. From the sea of rooftops church cupolas loomed up like lonely islands. Eastwards and westwards lay long stretches of pleasure garden: the playgrounds of Tiflis’ gay set. The dark castle of Mtech rose in the distance–once the seat of Georgian kings, now one of the Russian Empire’s prisons for Caucasians who dared to think about politics.”1
Kurban Said’s Ali and Nino: A Love Story follows the relationship of Ali Khan Shirvanshir, a young Persian man, and Nino Kipiani, a young Georgian woman, as they grow from teenagers into young adults. The story opens in, and often returns to, the city of Baku at the southeast terminus of the Caucasus mountains on the edge of the Caspian Sea. The Caucasus forms a natural border between the continents of Asia and Europe, and the story of their relationship is one of love trying to overcome cultural differences.
Ali and Nino visit the Monastery of Saint David while they are visiting Nino’s family in the Georgian capital of Tiflis, now Tbilisi. The church sits on top of the steep Mountain of David, which is also known as Mtatsminda. At the church Nino recounts the story of a princess who became pregnant and accused Saint David of being the father to avoid revealing the identity of the prince who had left her. Saint David was summoned to the king’s castle, and with the use of a special wand he was able to make the child speak the name of the real father from within the womb. Afterward the princess gave birth to a stone from which springs the fountain of Saint David, where a woman should bathe if she wants to have a child.
Ali and Nino opens near the beginning of the twentieth century and extends to the start of World War I. During their visit to the Mountain of David, little else would have been at the top other the monastery of Saint David, but even then the views of the city and the surrounding area made it a destination for locals and tourists. Ali and Nino ascend and descend from the mountain on a funicular railway that was already in place. In 1929, a pantheon opened on Mount Mtatsminda, which has become the final resting place of many famous Georgians. Today an amusement park also overlooks the city from the top of the mountain Ali and Nino visited.
1Said, Kurban. Ali and Nino: A Love Story. Trans. Jenia Graman. New York: Anchor, 2000. 131. Print.
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