The legend of the famous Bulgar Black Palace forms the basis for Musa Dzhalil’s opera, Altinchech, which was to become a symbol of resistance of the people against the oppression of the Nazi invaders.
Only a small part of the architectural heritage of the ancient Bulgar lands remains to this day. One of the most enigmatic and interesting buildings was the Black Palace, where the court buildings was presumed to have been housed. According to Eastern tradition, the Khan and three of his judges would enter the court through special doors situated on the four sides of the world. The Khan would enter through the Western doors, and the three judges through the Eastern, Southern and Northern.
The name of the Black Palace was no accident since it was built from dark limestone. Much later in the 19th century, a smokehouse was set up in the palace, and over time the internal walls also became blackened.
In folk memory, however, the colour of the building is not connected with the limestone and the smokehouse, but with the ancient and beautiful legend of the Bulgar Princess, Altinchech. This legend has been handed down from generation to generation and has become an inseparable part of the town of Bulgar. In 1236, when the town was attacked by the armies of the Golden Horde, its walls fell and the town was torched. Then a beautiful girl in white clothing appeared on the burning roof of one of the buildings. The golden locks of the youngest daughter of Khan Abdullakh fluttered in the wind, and her beauty touched the heart of Aksak Timur, the commander of the troops. He demanded that the girl marry him but she refused to come down to the invaders, even though the flames were already encroaching. Then Aksak Timur ordered that Galim-bek and Altin-bek, Altinchech’s two brothers, be brought to him. Seeing her brothers fettered, she agreed to marry him, but only on one condition: that Aksak Timur would release her brothers and give them the best horses, and she must see that they have safely left the city. Her conditions were fulfilled.
When Altinchech saw her brother disappear beyond the horizon, she threw herself from the roof into the flames. Since that time the building has been blackened. According to the legend, the Bulgarian princess’ sacrifice was not in vain, her brothers managed to hide from the armies of the Golden Horde in the territory of Prikazane.
In the 20th century, the celebrated poet Musa Dzhalil and the composer Nazib Zhiganov wrote the opera, Altinchech. The premier of the opera which Dzhalil began to write in 1938 took place on the 9th June, 1941, just a few days before the beginning of the war. During the years of the Great Patriotic War, the opera about the struggle of the Bulgars against the invaders took on a new symbolic meaning, becoming a symbol of resistance of the Soviet people against the oppression of the fascist invaders. Later Musa Dzhalil said in one of his conversations with the composer, Nazib Zhiganov:
“In the image of the interloper Khan, I see the modern fascists who burn and destroy everything in their path”.