Salome Dadiani and Her Descendants
Salome Dadiani (1848-1913), the daughter of David Dadiani and Ekaterine Chavchavadze, was born in 1848 in Zugdidi, but was in many ways a child of Western Europe. In 1857, when Salome was still a child, the Russian Empire assumed direct administration of the principality of Samegrelo, a prelude to its official abolition ten years later. Salome’s mother Ekaterine, who had been ruling the province for four years as the regent of Salome’s brother Niko, then left the province with her family to reside first in St. Petersburg and then in France and Germany.
While living in Paris, the Dadiani children—Salome, Niko, and younger brother Andria—were immersed in the world of the French nobility, the Dadiani expatriates were regarded with fascination. Ekaterine knew how to make an impression; in public, she always was accompanied by maids of honor in traditional Georgian dress, and she reveled in presenting herself and her family as royalty from a mysterious oriental land.
In 1868, at the age of 21, Salome married Charles Louis Napoleon Achille Murat (1847-1895), a member of the French imperial family. Their marriage was the social event of the year in Paris. A Catholic wedding ceremony was held at the church in Tuilerries Palace, with French Emperor Napoleon III and his Queen Eugenie de Montijo in attendance. The Emperor provided the couple with a wedding gift of one million francs, as well as a palace in Paris. The couple also received lavish gifts from the Russian Tsar.
Salome’s husband Achille Murat was born in New Jersey in the United States, the son of Lucien Murat (1803-1878) and his American wife, Caroline Georgina Frazer (1810-1879). He was described as handsome, blonde, kind, and gentle. After finishing his education at a military institute, he was commissioned as a lieutenant in the French army. His first posting was to Algeria, where he and his wife remained until 1870, when war broke out between France and Prussia and he was recalled to France. In the aftermath of Prussia’s swift and decisive victory, the French Parliament abolished the monarchy.
After this, Achille and Salome moved to Samegrelo, where they lived in a beautiful wooden palace on the grounds of the Dadiani’s Zugdidi residences complex. Achille organized several small businesses, including a winery. He introduced several types of imported French wine grapes to Samegrelo, and began the systematic cultivation of Samegrelo’s own prized ojaleshi grape, which at the time was not commercially cultivated and had nearly disappeared. He produced remarkable wines that he was able to successfully export to Europe.
Mingrelians, who lived in a region where feudal serfdom was still a fresh memory, marveled at how Achille, a son of royalty, was willing to work side-by-side with servants and peasants. They were also amazed at his concern for the common people of Samegrelo, as witnessed by his interest in supporting the construction of schools, roads, and clinics.
Achille always kept an eye on developments in France, but never returned to live there. Achille and Salome lived peacefully in Samegrelo until his death in 1895.
However, Achille’s death was somewhat mysterious. The official cause was given as a cerebral hemorrhage, but many in Samegrelo believed he killed himself. Earlier in the year, the couple’s residence at Zugdidi had been destroyed in a fire, and some newspaper accounts of this incident insinuated that the fire was no accident—that Salome had insured the palace, removed valuables, and set the fire to collect the insurance money. Some speculated that Achille, humiliated at the scandal that ensued, had shot himself.
Many of his compatriots traveled from France to bid farewell to Achille, and many Mingrelians also attended the ceremony. He was buried in the garden of the Catholic Church in Chkaduashi, where the family had a summer home. For many years after his death, people honored his memory by cleaning his tombstone and planting Hortenzias nearby. But during much of the Soviet period, his grave was neglected and left to the elements. Finally, in 1975, the city government had a marker erected in his memory.
After the death of her husband, Salome and her three children moved to Paris, where she died in relative poverty in 1913.
Children and Grandchildren
Lucien Charles David Murat (1870-1933) was the first child of Achille and Salome. He was born in Mustafa, Algeria, studied at Oxford, and received a degree in agricultural studies, becoming a winemaker like his father. In 1897, two years after father’s death, he married Mary de Roan Shabo at Saint Francis Xavier’s Church in Paris. Mary was gifted painter and had her own studio in Paris, which served as guest house for visiting art lovers. Lucien was unhappy with Mary’s determination to pursue her own career, and in 1906, he left her in Paris and returned to his mother’s homeland of Samegrelo with their son, Achille. After the Bolsheviks took Georgia, Lucien was captured and spent two years in Soviet prisons. Upon his release, he returned to France. He later settled in Morocco, where he died in 1933.
When his parents separated, Achille Napoleon Murat (1898-1987), the only child of Lucien and Mary, moved to Samegrelo at the age of eight with his father and spent the next ten years there. Returning to France in 1916, he trained as a military aviator and became an accomplished pilot. But because he spent so many of his formative years in Samegrelo, he always identified closely with his grandmother Salome’s Georgian heritage, and after World War II, he sought to return to Georgia. Unfortunately, the Soviet government would not grant him a visa. Remaining in Paris, he often wore the chokha (Georgian national dress) as a sign of respect for his cultural roots. In 1965, he was finally allowed to enter Georgia by the Soviet authorities and visit sites such as his grandfather Achille’s tomb. Knowing that he would most likely die and be buried in France, he soiled his clothes with earth from his ancestors’ garden, and asked to be buried in these clothes.
The second son of Salome Dadiani and Achille Murat was named Napoleon Luis Achille Murat (1872-1943), and came to be widely known by his nickname, Napo. Born in Bruno, France, he returned to Georgia in 1901 and joined the Russian army, becoming renowned for his riding skills. In 1904, he fought in the Russo-Japanese war, where he received six medals for courage. After a brief spell in retirement in the United States, he returned to Georgia to fight in World War I as a member of the so-called “Wild Division ,” in the course of which he was injured and commended for bravery with the 3rd Grade Order of Saint Vladimir. (Napo’s exploits in this conflict are described in Nikolas Brechko’s book , Wild Division.) Following the Soviet takeover of Georgia, Napo fled to France, where he died in 1943; he is buried in Nice. In some ways, Napo’s life and character resembled those of his uncle, Andria Dadiani. Like Andria, Napo never married and seemed to revel in an unconventional, unsettled lifestyle.
Antoinette Katherine (Bebe) Murat (1879-1954) was the third and youngest child of Salome Dadiani and Achille Murat, and the one about whom the least is known. The first director of the Dadiani Palace Museum in Zugdidi, who knew her, recalled that she was a very kind woman. She lived in the Salkhino Palace from 1918-1921 during the brief period of Georgian independence, and was trapped there when the Red Army marched into the region. With the building surrounded, Antoinette ordered her children—who were armed and wanted to defend their ancestral home—not to resist. Instead, she emerged from within and calmly implored the soldiers to take whatever they wanted, but not to harm anyone. The palace was occupied without violence, and Antoinette left Georgia. Like her brother Napo, she settled in Nice, France, where she died in 1954.
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