The architectural richness of the Russian Empire reflected its long history and the cultural, ethnic, and religious diversity of its people. Prokudin-Gorskii photographed medieval churches and monasteries in European Russia and mosques and Islamic schools in the Caucasus and Central Asia. Many of the buildings he photographed were later destroyed by war or revolution, but others survived the Soviet period and have been restored. In addition to religious buildings, Prokudin-Gorskii photographed houses, country estates, factories, and barns. His skill as a photographer and the technical sophistication of his methods are apparent in the treatment of subjects ranging from church interiors to panoramic shots of cities.
Evening View of a Mosque
The Pamir Mountains provide a dramatic backdrop for an evening view of the Shakh-i Zindeh Mosque in Samarkand, a complex of graves and mortuary chapels built over many centuries for the women of the dynasties descended from Timur (Tamerlane, 1336-1405), the great medieval ruler of Central Asia.
Study of a Stork's Nest
A stork, traditionally a symbol of good luck among the Turkic peoples, sits in her nest at the top of a palace wall in Bukhara in Central Asia.
Iconostasis and Miraculous Icon
This photograph of the interior of the Church of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary in Smolensk shows the icon screen that in an Orthodox church separates the altar area from the congregation. At the right is a special shrine for the miracle-working icon known as “Odigitria,” traditionally associated with the city of Smolensk.
Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii. Miraculous Icon of Mother of God-Odigitria in the Mother of God Church, 1912. Digital color rendering. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsc-03952 (43)
View of the Nilova Monastery
The Monastery of St. Nil' on Stolobnyi Island in Lake Seliger in Tver' Province, northwest of Moscow, illustrates the fate of church institutions during the course of Russian history. St. Nil (d. 1554) established a small monastic settlement on the island around 1528. In the early 1600s his disciples built what was to become one of the largest, wealthiest, monasteries in the Russian Empire. The monastery was closed by the Soviet regime in 1927, and the structure was used for various secular purposes, including a concentration camp and orphanage. In 1990 the property was returned to the Russian Orthodox Church and is now a functioning monastic community once more.
Church of St. Dmitrii
The Church of St. Dmitrii, built in the 1190s in the town of Vladimir, east of Moscow in central European Russia, illustrates the verticality common to early Russian church architecture. This church served as the model for the Cathedral of St. Nicholas of the Orthodox Church of America on Massachusetts Avenue, in Washington, D.C.
View of the Solovetskii Monastery
The Solovetskii Monastery, founded in the early fifteenth century on an island in the White Sea in the far north of European Russia, was for centuries one of the most important monastic and cultural institutions in Russia. The thick walls shown in this photo protected the monastery from foreign invaders on several occasions. The monastery was partially destroyed in the early Soviet period and became the site of the first major concentration camp of the Gulag system. In the post-Soviet era it was returned to the Orthodox Church and is once again a functioning monastery.
Tiled Porcelain Stove in the Prince's Palace
This photograph of the interior of the Prince's Palace shows a ceramic tile heating stove surrounded by brightly painted furnishings and walls with decorative frescoes. The palace was built in the fifteenth century in Rostov the Great, an old Russian town northeast of Moscow.
Church of the Resurrection
Russian churches featured exterior and interior decoration in the forms of mosaics, frescoes, and carvings, often in brilliant colors. The Church of the Resurrection in Kostroma in the northern part of European Russia was built in the 1650s and demonstrates the exuberant decoration of the exterior characteristic of its period. However, in spite of the dramatic exterior, the church is noted primarily for its interior wall paintings.
Cathedral of the Nativity of the Virgin
The Cathedral of the Nativity of the Virgin is the oldest church building in Suzdal'. It is located in the Suzdal' kremlin, the original walled, fortress-like part of the city. The cathedral, which dates to the twelfth century, was rebuilt many times over the years and displays the onion domes so characteristic of Russian church architecture.
Portion of the Shir-Dar Madrasa
The tiled columns, walls, and domes of the Shir-Dar (“Lions' House”) madrasa in Samarkand show the elaborate abstract designs and use of calligraphy typical in much of Islamic and Central Asian architecture. This madrasa, constructed 1619-1636 and in essence a Muslim theological academy and school, is part of the complex of mosques and madrasas found in Registan, the most sacred precinct of old Samarkand.
Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii. A Portion of the Shir-Dar Minaret and its Dome from Tillia-Kari, 1911. Digital color rendering. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsc-04440 (50)
Church of the Nativity of the Virgin
Founded around 1330, the Trinity-Ipat'ev Monastery in the old Russian Volga River city of Kostroma, northeast of Moscow, contained within its walls several old churches, including the Church of the Nativity of Virgin the shown here. Originally constructed in the sixteenth century, the church was demolished in the early Soviet period. This photograph may be the only color photograph ever taken of the church.
Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii. The Cathedral of the Nativity of the Holy Mother of God in Ipatevskii Monastery, 1910. Digital color rendering. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsc-04444 (51)
View of Tobol'sk from the Bell Tower of the Church of the Transfiguration
From the time of its founding in 1587 until the late 1800s, Tobol'sk was one of the largest and most important cities in Siberia. For several centuries Tobol'sk served as the military, administrative, and political center of Russian rule in Siberia. This panoramic view shows the Irtysh River in the foreground and the broad, flat Siberian plain beyond the central part of the city.
Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii. View of the City of Tobol'sk from the North from the Bell Tower of the Church of the Transfiguration, 1912. Digital color rendering. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsc-04447 (52)
Cathedral of St. Nicholas, Mozhaisk
A dirt road leads to the brightly painted seventeenth-century Cathedral of St. Nicholas amid modest residential structures in Mozhaisk, west of Moscow.
Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii. General View of the [Nikolaevskii] Cathedral from Southwest, 1911. Digital color rendering. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsc-04438 (53)
View of Tiflis
This panoramic view of Tiflis shows the city nestled in a valley amid ridges in the Caucasus Mountains. The city today is Tbilisi, the capital of the now independent Republic of Georgia. At the time this photograph was taken, around 1910, the city had a multinational population of 160,000, including Georgians, Armenians, Russians, Persians, Poles, Tatars, and Jews.
Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii. View of Tiflis from the Grounds of Saint David Church, ca. 1907-1915. Digital color rendering. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsc-04434 (54)
View of the Likanskii Palace from the Kura River
The Likany foothills of the Caucasus Mountains provide a dramatic backdrop for a palace built on the Kura River, close to the Russian border with Turkey and near the town of Borzhomi in present-day Georgia.
Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii. General View of the Likanskii Palace from the Kura River, ca. 1907-1915. Digital color rendering. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsc-04433 (55)
Wooden Chapel on the Site of Old Belozersk
First mentioned in Russian chronicles for the year 862 A.D., the town of Belozersk or “White Lake” was abandoned and relocated several times. The original settlement, commemorated here by a small nineteenth-century wooden chapel, was on the north side of the White Lake in north central European Russia.
Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii. A Chapel on the Site Where the Old City of Belozersk Stood, 1909. Digital color rendering. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsc-04420 (56)
Storage Facilities for Hay
In the settlement of Viazovaia, along the Trans-Siberian mainline in the Ural Mountain region, wooden storage facilities for hay and food crops are photographed against the background of a dense pine forest.
View of Suzdal' from the Kamenka River
Stone churches, wooden houses, and a small bridge over the Kamenka River are photographed at the edge of the ancient Russian town of Suzdal', northeast of Moscow. Once an important and powerful principality, Suzdal' declined as Moscow rose in prominence and consolidated control over several principalities in central European Russia.
The Village of Kolchedan
A dirt road passing over a stone bridge leads to the small town of Kolchedan in the Ural Mountains, southeast of Ekaterinburg. Originally founded in 1673 as a frontier stockade, by the time this photo was taken in 1912, the town was a center for sandstone mining and processing and had two substantial stone church buildings, including a convent with a school.