Akhulgo was an impregnable outpost in the mountains of Dagestan and the site of an important military event in the conquest of Chechnya and Dagestan during the Murid War in the Caucasus (1825-1859). The residence of Imam Shamil, Akhulgo was composed of two menacing castles, one old and one new, perched at the tops of two steep cliffs separated by the deep gorge of the Ashilta River, connected by a log bridge. On 12 June 1839, the Russian army, under the command of Lieutenant General Pavel Grabbe reached Akhulgo, marking the beginning of the siege which would last for over two months. Finally, on 22 August, both castles were taken by storm, although Shamil managed to escape, and the war continued for nearly twenty more years.
The Russian realist and battle painter Frantz Roubaud selected the siege of Akhulgo as the subject for his first large-scale panorama. He chose to focus on the last minutes of the battle, when new Akhulgo had already been taken and six companies of the Kabardinsk regiment, the Kurinsk battalion and two companies of the Apsheron regiment were pursuing the fleeing highlanders across the log bridge to the old castle, where a bloody battle was unravelling.
The panorama received great acclaim, earning Roubaud the title of Professor of the Munich Academy of Fine Arts in 1891, and the position of the head of the studio for battle painting at the Imperial Academy of Arts in St Petersburg in 1903. It was on view at numerous international exhibitions, including the 1896 All-Russia Industrial and Art Exhibition in Nizhniy Novgorod, where the panorama was housed in one of the most prominent buildings on the exhibition grounds – cylindrical, one hundred metres in circumference, with a tall egg-shaped, half glass dome. Above the entrance to the panorama pavilion was a pediment topped with a sculptural group depicting a soldier clashing with a highlander.
After the exhibition in Nizhny Novgorod, the Russian government purchased the panorama for the Caucasian Military District. It remained in storage at the Caucasian Military History Museum ‘Temple of Glory’ in Tiflis for nearly thirteen years, and, only in 1909, when the building of the Defence of Sevastopol panorama was temporarily vacated, was Siege of Akhulgo placed on view to the public again, for just over a year. It was never installed again upon returning to the Caucasus and, due to poor storage conditions, only three original fragments of the panorama have survived, now in the Dagestan Museum of Fine Arts, Makhachkala.