I’ve just spent a few days in Latvia at a UNESCO conference on education. The delegates were mainly from Central Asia and Eastern Europe, so I had the chance to talk to people from Mongolia, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, as well as Lithuania and Hungary. One of the first things that a lot of countries emerging from years of Soviet Rule do is re-establish their own history and traditions. As a result their people have a knowledge of their own folklore and history that puts the Brits to shame.
One delegate told me about the Maiden Tower (also known as Giz Galasi) in Baku, in Azerbaijan. She gave me a little souvenir saucer, which is now on my desk, which has a picture of the ruin. It’s one of creepiest looking towers I’ve seen. It looks like it could have been designed by Piranesi himself. I can’t wait to get to Baku to visit it in person. The story she told me was that the tower was named after a princess who wanted to marry against her father’s wishes. In fact her father, the Khan of Baku, wanted to marry her himself. The girl threw herself off the top of the tower into the sea and perished in the waves.
There’s a similar castle in Istanbul. According to legend the Sultan placed his daughter in the tower to save her from a prophesy foretelling her death from a snake bite on her 18th birthday. On that day he brought her a bowl of fruit to celebrate and an asp that had hidden inside bit her on the hand, killing her.
The image of vast tower overshadowing a city has been hovering in my mind for years. In my novel the City of Thumb has its own fortress prison called the Carceral Archipelago. It’s anchored to the ground by four chains that have links as big as a house. The denizens watch over the people of Thumb through a network of police, informers and spies. The image of the Carceral Archipelago has been fixed in my imagination for a very long time but when I saw the picture of Giz Galasi in Baku it looked to me like a strange half-cousin of that monstrous tower at the end of time.