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18 rare colour photographs of the Russian Empire from over 100 years ago

A rare glimpse into life a century ago.

RUSSIAN CHEMIST AND photographer Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii was one of the first to use colour photography in the early 20th century in Russia.

In 1907, the photographer decided to systematically document the Russian Empire and was given a specially-equipped railroad car darkroom by Tsar Nicholas II for the project.

To create his images, he used an oblong glass plate through three different color filters of red, green, and blue, projecting them in slides on top of one another to create a full color image.

Today, more than 2,000 of his images are preserved by the US Library of Congress. We’ve put together a collection of some of his most striking images

Prokudin-Gorskii took this photograph of Emir Said Mir Mohammed Alim Khan, the last emir representative to rule the Emirate of Bukhara in Central Asia, in 1911.

prokudin-gorskii-took-this-photograph-of-emir-said-mir-mohammed-alim-khan-the-last-emir-representative-to-rule-the-emirate-of-bukhara-in-central-asia-in-1911 Source: Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky [Public domain], Wikimedia Commons

Source: Library of Congress

Here, we get an early 20th-century view of Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, which was previously known as Tiflis in Russian. Located on a plain formed by the Kura River, the city was annexed to the Russian Empire in 1801 before becoming the capital of an independent Georgia in 1991.

here-we-get-an-early-20th-century-view-of-tbilisi-the-capital-of-georgia-which-was-previously-known-as-tiflis-in-russian-located-on-a-plain-formed-by-the-kura-river-the-city-was-annexed-to-the-russi Source: Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky [Public domain], Wikimedia Commons

Source: Library of CongressWorld Digital Library

By the time World War I arrived, Russia was in a stage of rapid industrialization. Prokudin-Gorskii was interested in documenting the economic life of the empire, capturing photographs like this one, taken in 1910, of a family mining-operation in the Ural Mountain region.

by-the-time-world-war-i-arrived-russia-was-in-a-stage-of-rapid-industrialization-prokudin-gorskii-was-interested-in-documenting-the-economic-life-of-the-empire-capturing-photographs-like-this-one-ta Source: Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky [Public domain], Wikimedia Commons

Source: Library of Congress

And this photograph, taken in 1912, of workers and supervisors preparing to pour cement foundations for a sluice dam across the Oka River, near the town of Denivo.

and-this-photograph-taken-in-1912-of-workers-and-supervisors-preparing-to-pour-cement-foundations-for-a-sluice-dam-across-the-oka-river-near-the-town-of-denivo Source: Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky [Public domain], Wikimedia Commons

Source: Library of Congress

Railroad truss bridges, built on columns over the Kama River near Perm, helped support the Trans-Siberian Railway, spanning over 6,000 miles from central European Russia to the Pacific Ocean.

railroad-truss-bridges-built-on-columns-over-the-kama-river-near-perm-helped-support-the-trans-siberian-railway-spanning-over-6000-miles-from-central-european-russia-to-the-pacific-ocean Source: Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky [Public domain], Wikimedia Commons

Source: Library of Congress

Here, Prokudin-Gorskii rides the Murmasnk Railroad in a handcar. The railroad was built by the Russian government during World War I to connect Petrograd (Saint Petersburg) to Murmansk, the last city to be founded in the Russian Empire.

here-prokudin-gorskii-rides-the-murmasnk-railroad-in-a-handcar-the-railroad-was-built-by-the-russian-government-during-world-war-i-to-connect-petrograd-saint-petersburg-to-murmansk-the-last-city-to- Source: Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky [Public domain], Wikimedia Commons

Source: Library of CongressThe Moscow Times

Located on Stolobnyi Island in Lake Seliger, Russia, the Monastery of St. Nil’ was first built around 1528 and turned into one of the largest and wealthiest monasteries in the Russian empire during the early 1600s, according to the Library of Congress. It was closed by the Soviet regime in 1927 and finally returned to the Russian Orthodox Church in 1990.

located-on-stolobnyi-island-in-lake-seliger-russia-the-monastery-of-st-nil-was-first-built-around-1528-and-turned-into-one-of-the-largest-and-wealthiest-monasteries-in-the-russian-empire-during-the- Source: Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky [Public domain], Wikimedia Commons

Source: Library of Congress

Rostov, an old Russian town northeast of Moscow, stood as the capital of Kyivan princes who moved into Russia. The photograph here shows the intricacies of a ceramic porcelain stove, photographed in the Prince’s Palace in 1911.

rostov-an-old-russian-town-northeast-of-moscow-stood-as-the-capital-of-kyivan-princes-who-moved-into-russia-the-photograph-here-shows-the-intricacies-of-a-ceramic-porcelain-stove-photographed-in-the Source: Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky [Public domain], Wikimedia Commons

Source: Library of CongressLonely Planet

The Chakva tea farm and processing plant, located near the Black Sea coast near Batumi in Georgia, was one of the major suppliers of tea to the Russian Empire.

the-chakva-tea-farm-and-processing-plant-located-near-the-black-sea-coast-near-batumi-in-georgia-was-one-of-the-major-suppliers-of-tea-to-the-russian-empire Source: Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky [Public domain], Wikimedia Commons

Source: Library of Congress

The town of Borzhomi, located in the Caucasus Mountains in today’s Republic of Georgia, came under Russian control in the 1820s and was developed into a resort thanks to its abundance of mineral waters. It became a destination for Russia’s elite who would don elegant attire to visit fashionable pavilions like this one at the Ekaterinin Spring (also known Catherine Spring).

the-town-of-borzhomi-located-in-the-caucasus-mountains-in-todays-republic-of-georgia-came-under-russian-control-in-the-1820s-and-was-developed-into-a-resort-thanks-to-its-abundance-of-mineral-waters Source: Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky [Public domain], Wikimedia Commons

Source: Library of Congress

The Shakh-i-Zindeh Mosque, located in Samarkand, was an intricate center of graves and mortuary chapels made specifically for women of the dynasties descended from the warlord Timur (also known as Tamerlane), who ruled over Central Asia between 1370 and 1405.

the-shakh-i-zindeh-mosque-located-in-samarkand-was-an-intricate-center-of-graves-and-mortuary-chapels-made-specifically-for-women-of-the-dynasties-descended-from-the-warlord-timur-also-known-as-tame Source: Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky [Public domain], Wikimedia Commons

Source: Library of Congress

The Kasil Iron Works plant, founded in 1747 and known for its high quality of cast iron products, had a workforce of more than 3,000 people when this photograph was taken in 1910.

the-kasil-iron-works-plant-founded-in-1747-and-known-for-its-high-quality-of-cast-iron-products-had-a-work-force-of-more-than-3000-people-during-the-time-in-which-this-photograph-was-taken-in-1910 Source: Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky [Public domain], Wikimedia Commons

Source: Library of Congress

Samarkand, the second largest city in Uzbekistan, is more than 2,700 years old and has been the capital of several different empires. Its markets were among the famous famous on the Silk Road, where merchants would sell colourful silks, cottons, woo fabrics, and traditional carpets.

samarkand-the-second-largest-city-in-uzbekistan-is-more-than-2700-years-old-and-has-been-the-capital-of-several-different-empires-its-markets-were-among-the-famous-famous-on-the-silk-road-where-merc Source: Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky [Public domain], Wikimedia Commons

Source: Library of CongressEuronews

Vendors also sold fresh fruits at the Samarkand market.

vendors-also-sold-fresh-fruits-at-the-samarkand-market Source: Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky [Public domain], Wikimedia Commons

Source: Library of Congress

The ancient town of Suzdal, located on the Kamenka River north of Moscow, once stood as a crucial principality, but its power declined when Moscow rose to prominence in central European Russia. This photograph of the town was taken in 1912.

the-ancient-town-of-suzdal-located-on-the-kamenka-river-north-of-moscow-once-stood-as-a-crucial-principality-but-its-power-declined-when-moscow-rose-to-prominence-in-central-european-russia-this-pho Source: Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky [Public domain], Wikimedia Commons

Source: Library of Congress

The village of Kolchedan, located in the Ural Mountains near Ekaterinburg, was a center for sandstone mining and processing at the time.

the-village-of-kolchedan-located-in-the-ural-mountains-near-ekaterinburg-was-a-center-for-sandstone-mining-and-processing-at-the-time Source: Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky [Public domain], Wikimedia Commons

Source: Library of Congress

Tobolsk, a town in Tyumen Oblast, Russia, was a historical capital of Siberia and served as the military, administrative, and political center of Russian rule in Siberia.

tobolsk-a-town-in-tyumen-oblast-russia-was-a-historical-capital-of-siberia-and-served-as-the-military-administrative-and-political-center-of-russian-rule-in-siberia Source: Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky [Public domain], Wikimedia Commons

Source: Library of Congress

And finally here is the photographer himself taking a self-portrait near what is believed to be the Korolistskali River, located near the seaport of Batumi in Georgia.

and-finally-here-is-the-photographer-himself-taking-a-self-portrait-near-what-is-believed-to-be-the-korolistskali-river-located-near-the-seaport-of-batumi-in-georgia Source: Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky [Public domain], Wikimedia Commons

Source: Library of Congress

- Talia Avakian

More: Here’s ten more stunning images from the National Geographic Traveller Photo contest >

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