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Wednesday, 11 November 2015
On This Day: Tsarskoye Selo Railway Opened in Russia
Topic: Imperial Russia

Arrival of the first train from St. Petersburg to Tsarskoye Selo on 11 November (O.S. 30 October) 1837
On 11 November (O.S. 30 October 30), 1837 in St. Petersburg was officially opened Russia's first passenger railway between St. Petersburg, Tsarskoe Selo and Pavlovsk.

On 27 April (O.S. 15 April), 1836 was promulgated the Decree of Emperor Nicholas I on the approval of the “Regulations on the establishment of cooperative association for the construction of a railroad from St. Petersburg to Tsarskoe Selo with extension up to Pavlovsk”. The founders of the association were: master of ceremonies of the Imperial Household Count Alexei Bobrinsky, merchants Benedikt Cramer and Ivan Conrad Plit and an Austrian nobleman Franz von Gerstner.

The construction of the railway commenced on 13 May (O.S. 1 May), 1836. It was led by an Austrian engineer, professor of Vienna University of Technology Franz Gerstner.

The entire route, except for the area adjacent to St. Petersburg, which was not acquired by the association, was divided into sections given over to contractors and artels of 30-40 people. Technical construction management was performed by 17 engineers, five of which had already carried out similar work on the railways of Britain. Excavation works carried out by hand, long-distance transportation was made by carting.

In the midst of the construction about 1,800 workers were engaged on the track (peasants of Petersburg Province, Vologda Province and other surrounding provinces) and 1,400 soldiers of the paramilitary construction battalions of the General Directorate of Railways.

Rolling stock, rails and rail fasteners were purchased abroad, but some cars for freight, steam machines for water supply, water pipes, travel arrangements were made in St. Petersburg. Originally the railroad was built from St. Petersburg to Tsarskoe Selo but was later extended to the suburban town of Pavlovsk, the total length of the route rose to 27 km.

The first test journey of a horse-drawn train from Tsarskoye Selo to Pavlovsk took place on 9 October (O.S 27 September), 1836.

15 November (O.S. 3 November) the first steam engine was brought to the railroad from England and 18 November (O.S. 6 November) took place test drives of a steam locomotive on the stretch between Tsarskoe Selo - Pavlovsk. By the time of the opening of the road Russia obtained 6 locomotives, 44 passenger and 19 freight cars bought in Britain and Belgium. Steam locomotives were created on the basis used in Europe for the types of locomotives being in use, but the some changes were made to their structure due to the increased track width (1829 mm). At the request of Gerstner, steam locomotives were required to have the power of 40 horsepower and be able to move several cars with three hundred passengers with the speed of 40 versts per hour.

Grand opening of the Tsarskoe Selo Railway took place on 11 November (O.S. 30 October 30), 1837. Distinguished guests and numerous residents of the capital gathered at the newly constructed building of the station on Zagorodnyj prospectus. F. Gerstner got on the locomotive and at 12:30 a. m. a train of 8 cars moved away from the platform. 35 minutes later the train arrived at Tsarskoe Selo. On the way back Gerstner, willing to demonstrate all the opportunities of the railroad and locomotive, developed a fantastic speed for the time, bridging all the way from St. Petersburg to Tsarskoe Selo in 27 min. The average speed was 51 km/h, at times it exceeded 60 km/h. St. Petersburg Gazette wrote the next day: “Sixty miles per hour, terrible to think ... Meanwhile, you sit quietly, you do not notice this speed, terrifying imagination, only the wind whistles, just a horse blazes with a fiery lather, leaving behind a white cloud of steam. What is the force that carries all these huge crews with the swiftness of the wind in the desert, which destroys the power of space, consumes time? This force is a man’s intellect!".

After the opening of the road the completion work began, and trains (one or two pairs) circulated only on Sundays and public holidays. From 12 February (O.S. January 31), 1838 began the daily circulation of the two pairs of horse-drawn trains. From 16 April (O.S. 4 April) 1838 only the locomotive-drawn trains were used. In 1838, the St. Petersburg Institute of Technology created a locomotive "Agile" for Russia's first railway.

Rates at Tsarskoye Selo railway, established in 1838, did not change significantly until the second half of 1870. The fare for a journey from the capital to Tsarskoe Selo in the first class coach was 75 kopecks in silver, in the second class – 50 kopecks, in the third class – 35 kopecks and in the fourth - 20 kopeks. Travel tickets were made of brass and called "cans." They were reusable, so the administration did not spend anything for their reproduction. From April 1860 the railway administration replaced "cans" with paper tickets of different colors: for the 1st class coaches they were white, for the 2nd class - pink and the 3rd class - green.

At the grand meeting of the Imperial Russian Technical Society which marked the 50th anniversary of the start of construction of railways in Russia, it was noted that "Tsarskoe Selo Railway in respect of its general importance for the network of Russian railways and the purpose of its construction, will be regarded as a memorable Poteshny Regiment and the boat of Emperor Peter I, which provided Russia with glorious and victorious Guard, Army and Navy".

© Presidential Library / Edited by Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 11 November, 2015


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 6:00 AM EST
Updated: Wednesday, 11 November 2015 7:03 AM EST
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Thursday, 5 November 2015
On This Day: Russia Established Diplomatic Relations With USA in 1809
Topic: Imperial Russia

Note: This article has been edited and updated by Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia

On 5 November (O.S. 24 October 24), 1809 John Quincy Adams, the future U.S. President and U.S. Secretary of State as well as the first U.S. Ambassador in Russia presented his credentials to the Emperor Alexander I, which marked the formal establishment of diplomatic relations between Russia and the United States.

In the first half of the 18th century Russian traders started to actively develop the lands in North America. Many Russian settlements were founded in the Aleutian Islands, mainland of Alaska, in what is now the Canadian provinces of Yukon and British Columbia and American states of Washington, Oregon and California. Gradually the Russian Empire proclaimed its sovereignty over the territory occupied by Russian settlers.

In late 1790s London hosted the first official meeting of Russian and American diplomats – the U.S. envoy in Britain Rufus King and the Russian ambassador at the court of St. James S. R. Vorontsov. At this meeting there was talk about the conclusion of a trade treaty between Russia and the United States, as well as about the appointment of an American envoy to St. Petersburg. In 1799 followed the opinion of the Emperor Paul I: «We are more willing to establish the mutual missions, since their government by its  behavior in the present circumstances has won our every respect ... thus, as soon as the abovementioned States appoint their Minister, we will do the same. " In April of 1803 Levett Harris was appointed the American consul in St. Petersburg.

Despite the fact that consular relations between Russia and the U.S. had already been established, formal contacts continued to be made via the diplomatic representatives of the two countries in London. Therefore, in June of 1806 in Washington, the issue of appointment of an envoy to St. Petersburg was raised. In October 1807 the Head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia Nikolai Rumyantsev expressed the willingness of the Russian government to exchange diplomatic representatives with USA.

The first American envoy to Russia was appointed John Quincy Adams, the future sixth president of the United States. His candidacy was proposed by President James Madison and received the approval of Senate in July, 1809. J. Q. Adams, son of the second U.S. President John Adams, had once been in Russia. In addition, he had acquired a significant diplomatic experience being the U.S. envoy in Netherlands and Prussia. The main purpose of the American mission was all-round development of friendly relations and mutual understanding with Russia, as well as providing a favorable environment for the development of trade between the two countries. 13 (25) October J. Q. Adams arrived in the capital of the Russian Empire and October 24 (5 November) presented his credentials to the Russian Emperor. Following the ceremony, a lengthy private conversation took place between Adams and Alexander I, who expressed his firm intention to promote Russian-American trade. "There should not be any conflicting interests or reasons for rupture between the United States and Russia, while the trade between the two countries could be very useful for each of them," said the emperor.

During the World War I Russia and the United States were Allies. However, after the revolution of 1917 the United States refused to recognize the Soviet government. In 1918-1920 American troops took part in a foreign intervention supporting the White Army and at the domestic front the U.S. started a struggle against communist and socialist movement.

Impetus for a new political dialogue between the USSR and the U.S. were the trade relations which established between the two countries in late 1920s - early 1930s. A significant role in the normalization of relations with the Soviet Union played the interest of the U.S. business circles in trade with the Soviet state.

October 10, 1933 U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt sent a message to the chairman of the Central Executive Committee of the USSR Mikhail Kalinin on the establishment of diplomatic relations between the USSR and the USA. A reply message was sent to the U.S. on October 17, 1933. November 16, 1933 People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs of the USSR Maxim Litvinov and President Roosevelt exchanged notes on the establishment of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries. The first Soviet Ambassador to the United States was appointed Soviet diplomat A. Troyanovsky, and the first U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Russia was William Bullitt.

© Presidential Library. 05 November, 2015


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 6:14 AM EST
Updated: Thursday, 5 November 2015 6:25 AM EST
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Friday, 30 October 2015
Ukraine's Parliament to Ban Geographical Names Dating Back to Tsarist Russia
Topic: Imperial Russia

Relations between Russia and Ukraine continue to deteriorate
Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada (Parliament) on Thursday registered a bill prohibiting the names of cities and streets that date back to the times of Tsarist Russia, that is, before March 1917, the parliamentary secretariat said.

The bill was initiated by deputies of all the four factions of the ruling nationalistic coalition - the Petro Proshenko bloc, the People’s Front, Samopomich, and Batkivshchina.

The bill prohibits giving the names or pseudo-names of Russian monarchs, statesmen, politicians, or military of the Russian state of the period from the 14th through to the 20th century or the names derived from them, as well as the names consonant with or including the elements of the titles of Russian monarchs to geographic objects on the territory of Ukraine.

"To bring the laws concerning totalitarian regimes and fighters for independence into conformity with European practices, it stands to reason to ban the geographic names linked to the propaganda of Russian imperialism, the Russian Kingdom and Muscovy, the Russian Empire of the 14th through to the 20th century, and the period of Ukraine’s colonial depends, as they may be fueling the plans to misappropriate Ukrainian territories," the bill says.

Experts say the bill aims to prevent the return of the historic name Yelisavetgrad to Kirovograd, which the incumbent Ukrainian politicians think to be alluding to Empress Elizabeth, who ruled in Russia from 1741 through to 1762. The true fact of history, however, is the city’s original name relates to St Elizabeth.

In April, the Verkhovna Rada passed a law banning the symbols of Communism. It demands that the local authorities rename the regions, districts, cities, villages, and other geographic objects having Soviet names.

© TASS. 30 October, 2015


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 8:58 AM EDT
Updated: Friday, 30 October 2015 9:04 AM EDT
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Saturday, 26 September 2015
Archive for Materials Relating to Russian Emigres Opens in Paris
Topic: Imperial Russia

A new centre for the storing of historical documents relating to the emigration of Russians to France in the years following the 1917 revolution opened on 24 September, in the Parisian suburban town of Sainte-Genevieve-des-Bois. The cemetery of the town, which is located at a distance of 23 kilometres from the centre of Paris, contains the graves of members of the Russian Imperial family, as well as many famous Russian writers and artists. The Russian government took an active role in creating the new archive and memorial-research centre, which has been laid out on the territory of the Maison Russe. 

Russian financing has ensured the documents are kept in top condition, and the staff at Maison Russe will help academics access material necessary for their research. 

Maison Russe director Jean de Boyer expressed his sincere thanks to the Russian president for supporting the project. Russian Ambassador Alexander Orlov noted the huge cultural and intellectual contribution the Russian emigres made to the life of their new adopted homelands, and especially to France. He also thanked the Paris authorities for helping to keep this memory alive. "The Maison Russe is a testament to the dreams of those, who always dreamt of going home, but never could", he said.

A memorial plaque in honour of the founder of the Maison Russe, Princess Mescherskaya, was also unveiled today.

© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia / Russkiy Mir Foundation. 26 September, 2015


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 6:49 AM EDT
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Friday, 4 September 2015
On This Day: The Ministry of the Imperial Court was Established
Topic: Imperial Russia

The Main Office of the Ministry of the Imperial Court was located at 39 Liteiny Avenue, St. Petersburg. Structural units of
the Ministry were situated in the Winter Palace at 32 Dvortsovaya Embankment and 20 Fontanka River Embankment.
On 3 September, (O.S. 22 August) 1826, Emperor Nicholas I issued a decree establishing the Ministry of the Imperial Court to serve the needs of the emperor, his family and the imperial court. It brought together all the administration of the court office that had existed since the beginning of the 18th century.

The Ministry was headed by Minister of Court, which was beyond the control of the Senate and other senior government bodies and reported to the emperor only. The Minister received all the commands directly from the Emperor regarding the issues which demanded the imperial resolution, and also had the right to enter with a report directly into emperor’s chambers. This specific state of the ministry was due to the fact that the subjects of its activities were not of national character, and focused exclusively on the royal family. The first minister of the Imperial Court was Adjutant General, General of Infantry, Prince P. M. Volkonsky.

Under the jurisdiction of the Ministry was management of the personal property of the emperor and the imperial family, including land property; financial control over all agencies under the Ministry; superintendence of imperial palaces, gardens, parks; organization of court ceremonies, arrangement of ceremonies, coronations; ensuring of the imperial family’s security, sanitary supervision of the state of the imperial palaces and palatial cities. Also, the Ministry was in charge of awarding orders and medals and decorations; of censorship of works, performed at the Imperial Theater and Choir; of maintenance of the court clergy. The Office of His Imperial Majesty was also in submission to the Minister.

From 1852, the Minister of the Imperial Court was appointed to perform all the duties of Chancellor of the Chapter of Russian imperial orders: he was authorized to sign letters in the absence of the emperor to award the Order of White Eagle, St. Vladimir 2nd class, St. Anne 1st class and St. Stanislaus 1st and 2nd class with a star.

In 1858, the Ministry of the Imperial Court included the Dispatch Office of ceremonial affairs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the next year - Imperial Archaeological Commission. In 1882, based on Jagermeister office was established the Imperial hunting, and on the basis of the Court of His Imperial Majesty's Office were established the Chief palace office.

In April 1893 was issued a new establishment of the Ministry under which the Minister was appointed chief captain over all departments of the court offices and at the same time the Minister and Chancellor of the Imperial and Royal Orders. In his charge also were the Imperial Academy of Arts and the Moscow Art Society. That same year was created the position of Assistant Minister of the Imperial Court, who had the rights and duties of deputy minister.

In Western Europe, the creation of institutions of the Ministry of the Imperial Court was not universal. In Russia after the February Revolution, the Ministry of the Imperial Court was abolished. In March-April 1917 the properties of the offices and apanages were declared state property and handed over to the Ministry of Agriculture; industrial enterprises - to the Ministry of Trade and Industry; palaces – to the Ministry of Internal Affairs. With the establishment of Soviet power after the October Revolution, the property of the Ministry of the Imperial Court and principalities was given over to the People's Commissariat of property of the Soviet Republic.

Note: Count Vladimir Frederiks is probably the most famous Minister of the Imperial Court. He served at the Court of Emperor Nicholas II from 1897 to 1917, and is often seen in vintage photographs with the sovereign. He is easily recognized by his signature white moustache. For more information on this highly respected personalities, please refer to the following article:  

Count Vladimir Frederiks 

© Presidential Library / Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 03 September, 2015


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 6:33 AM EDT
Updated: Friday, 4 September 2015 8:13 AM EDT
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Sunday, 30 August 2015
Obituary - Kyril Zinovieff 1910-2015: Witness to the Bolshevik Revolution
Topic: Imperial Russia

Kyril Zinovieff born September 11 1910, died July 31 2015
A Russian émigré who, as a child, glimpsed Rasputin and saw Tsarist officers being shot by their men. Read about the fascinating life of Kyril Zinovieff, including his early years in St. Petersburg before the 1917 Revolution, published in The Telegraph on 30 August, 2015

Kyril Zinovieff, who has died aged 104, was a first-generation Russian émigré who served in the British Army, spent his working life as a British civil servant, and became an acclaimed translator of works by Russian writers; as a child he caught sight of a laughing Rasputin and remembered Tsarist officers being shot outside his bedroom window in 1917 during the Russian Revolution.

The youngest of four children, Kyril Lvovich Zinovieff was born in St Petersburg on September 11 1910 into one of Imperial Russia’s most illustrious families. Their association with St Petersburg had begun soon after the city first became the capital of Russia under Peter the Great. They shared with Pushkin descent from Peter’s African slave, Hannibal, and Kyril could also claim descent from the plotters who brought Catherine the Great to the throne by murdering her husband Peter III. The main instigators of the coup were the Orlov brothers: their mother was a Zinovieff, and the wife of Grigory Orlov (one of Catherine’s lovers) was also a Zinovieff.

From then until the Revolution of 1917, Zinovieffs were a constant presence in the city’s administration. Kyril’s father Lev (Leo) was Marshall of the Nobility for the Peterhof district and his grandfather was the last Tsarist governor of the province of St Petersburg. After the introduction of a constitution in 1905, Lev Zinovieff was elected to the Fourth Duma as a member of the liberal Octobrist party, while his father became a member of the upper house, the Council of State. Other relatives included Kyril’s great aunt Lydia Zinov’eva-Annibal (1866-1907), wife of the poet Viacheslav Ivanov and (among other things) the author of Thirty-Three Abominations, a novella which dealt with the then taboo subject of lesbianism.

Kyril’s mother, Olga Baranova, was the daughter of a cavalry general who became Minister of the Court of Tsar Nicholas I’s son, Grand Duke Mikhail Nikolayevich. Before her marriage, Olga had served as Maid of Honour to the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna and the Empress Alexandra. Both the Baranov and Zinovieff families had estates in Estonia.

Kyril and his siblings spent their early years among the elite of imperial St Petersburg and he and his older sister Elena, who died in 2013 aged 104 (a brother, Leo, died in a railway accident in Britain in 1951 and a sister, Olga, died in 1981), had magical memories of watching the ballet from their grandfather’s box at the Mariinsky Theatre, with butlers serving dinner in the interval.

Although the family fled into exile after the Revolution, when Kyril was seven years old, both he and Elena retained vivid memories of the last days of Tsarism — including a chance encounter with the “Mad Monk”, Grigori Rasputin, in 1916. Kyril recalled how, when walking in St Petersburg with their nurse, they saw a tall figure in black, “white teeth gleaming in a black expanse of beard”, emerge from a carriage. “ 'Look,’ said my nurse, 'Rasputin — smiling at us!’, ” Zinovieff recalled. “ 'Who,’ I asked, 'is Rasputin?’ ” By the end of the year Rasputin was dead, murdered by nobles who hoped to save Tsarism by ending his sway over the royal family. It did no good: A few months later the Bolshevik Revolution put an end to the imperial regime.

In an interview with The Independent in 2010 Kyril and Elena recalled watching from their nursery window as a military parade being held near the Winter Palace suddenly came to a halt. As an officer separated himself from the ranks, Kyril asked his mother and nurse: “Why aren’t they marching? Why is he talking to them? What’s happening?” Then, without warning, a shot rang out and the officer fell to the ground; to the end of his life Kyril recalled the way his arms flew back as he fell into the snow. The family realised then that the men were shooting their own officers.

As mutiny turned to massacre, Kyril recalled their nurse shouting down to the soldiers, and being told to mind her own business. “I thought, my God, they’re brave! To speak to my nurse like that! ” That night, for the first time, the family slept on the floor to avoid stray bullets.

As food supplies dwindled in the months that followed, the Zinovieffs kept going on supplies of dried vegetables brought to St Petersburg by peasants from their estates, all of whom were later shot by the Bolsheviks for helping the “enemies” of the revolution. When the arrangement began to fail, the Zinovieff children began to suffer from such severe starvation that when they were eventually inspected by an English doctor, he told their mother that they would never be healthy again. In addition they witnessed frequent acts of random violence during the early part of the period known as the Red Terror.

One day in July 1918 the family received a tip-off that their father Leo was “on the list”. That night the family, with the children’s beloved nurse (who hid the family jewels under her ample embonpoint), slipped away from St Petersburg and made their way, by tram, train and donkey cart, to the family estates in Estonia . The next day the border crossing was closed.

The Zinovieffs found themselves unwelcome in Estonia, nervous of its eastern neighbour, and in 1920 the family moved to London, where they made ends meet by selling family assets in Estonia, taking in paying guests and giving Russian language lessons.

Kyril was educated at St Paul’s School, then at the London School of Economics. After working briefly as a film extra at Ealing Studios during the Depression, he was recruited by the Foreign Office.

In 1938 he was sent to Prague, where he witnessed Hitler’s triumphal tour of the city in March 1939 and recalled a Jewish friend begging him to look after his prize possession, an engraved fob watch, until the end of the war. The man, a doctor, somehow survived Auschwitz and later wrote asking for the watch to be returned. Sadly Zinovieff had had to leave the watch behind in Prague when he received a coded message instructing him to evacuate after Britain declared war on Germany. He remained dogged by the memory of having to break the bad news to a man who had lost everything else in the Holocaust.

With Britain now at war, the Foreign Office advised Zinovieff to change his name, on the grounds that it might be an embarrassment to have a Russian name at the time of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. He chose the name FitzLyon (son of Leo), a name by which he was known to many for the rest of his life, not realising that the prefix “Fitz” implied “bastard son”.

Called up for military service in June 1940, Zinovieff spent the war in Military Intelligence in the Middle East, mainly in Egypt, but with stints in Iraq and Persia, and was heavily involved in liaising with Russian troops and then German prisoners-of-war around Alexandria.

Kyril Zinovieff with his wife April
In 1941 he had married April Mead, who would who would become a distinguished writer and translator under the name April FitzLyon. Returning to Britain after the war, he joined the Joint Intelligence Bureau of the Ministry of Defence where he worked until 1971. Thereafter he devoted himself to teaching, writing and translating, sometimes in collaboration with his wife.

His Before the Revolution (with Tatiana Browning, 1983), used photographs to present a picture of a Russia that is irretrievably lost. His introduction to his translation of Dostoevsky’s Winter Notes on Summer Impressions, was considered by Isaiah Berlin to be “a major contribution to the understanding of influences on Dostoevsky”. He also translated the Memoirs of Princess Dashkova and the Diary of Vaslav Nijinsky.

Later, he worked for an American organisation smuggling banned books into Russia and Eastern Europe.

During the 1980s, and less often in the 1990s, he made regular visits to Russia and eastern Europe. His memory, he liked to joke, stretched from Rasputin to Putin.

After his wife’s death in 1998 Zinovieff began a new phase in his life, shared with Jenny Hughes, whom he had first met in the Foreign Office and with whose family he and April had forged a close friendship.

In 2003 he and Jenny published The Companion Guide to St Petersburg, part guidebook, part family memoir, to coincide with the city’s tercentenary. They also published new translations of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina (2008) and Khadji Murat (2011), and Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground (2011).

A compulsive and brilliant talker (his voice was once described as “a charming mix of 1920s BBC announcer and the occasional Slavic rolled 'r’ ”) Zinovieff had a wide circle of friends who loved him for his wisdom and self-deprecating sense of humour.

Kyril Zinovieff is survived by Jenny Hughes and by his two sons. © The Telegraph. 30 August, 2015


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 7:36 AM EDT
Updated: Sunday, 30 August 2015 8:04 AM EDT
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Monday, 1 June 2015
Hidden World of the Czars: The Russian Empire in 3D Photographs
Topic: Imperial Russia

Go back in time to the Hidden World of the Czars of the Russian Empire as seen in 3-D photographs, on Saturday, June 6 at the Museum of Russian Icons in Clinton, Massachusetts.

Drawing on a trove of never-before-shown historic photographs, this virtual tour of Czarist Russia spans the earliest days of photography in the 1850s to the fall of the regime in World War I. 

High resolution original stereo photos will be projected in 3 dimensions, as they were intended to be seen. See serfs in the squalor of 19th-century Russian peasant villages, bustling ports and cities of the new merchant classes, the glittering life of the czar and his court, and the wars and struggles that signalled the end of the empire. Through the magic of 3D, you can stroll the streets of Moscow, view houseboats in St. Petersburg, visit ancient monasteries, walk through villages and farms, visit with Tolstoy and his long-suffering wife Sonia, and stand in the trenches with conscripted Russian soldiers. This is a never-to-be-forgotten chance to see the once hidden and now vanished worlds of Russia’s storied past. 

Presented by Photoarchive3D (, a freshly digitized archive of 30,000 historic photographic images. 
© Museum of Russian Icons. 01 June, 2015


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 11:06 AM EDT
Updated: Thursday, 4 June 2015 11:12 AM EDT
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Tuesday, 18 November 2014
Special Imperial Russia Issue of National Geographic Magazine, November 1914
Topic: Imperial Russia

Copyright Notice: The following article was originally published in the November 17, 2005 edition of Russia Beyond the Headlines. The author Alexander Potemkin, owns the copyright of the work presented below.

One hundred years ago, National Geographic published an issue entirely devoted to Russia. On Nov. 19, the American-Russian Cultural Cooperation Foundation honoured the author's grandson for his contribution to American-Russian cultural cooperation.

The November 1914 issue of National Geographic Magazine is famous in Russia. Under the title "Young Russia. The Land of Unlimited Possibilities,” journalist and editor Gilbert H. Grosvenor gave the reader an idea - with a hundred pages of text accompanied by just as many photographs - of Russia's geography, history, economy, customs and traditions, of its beliefs and aspirations.

With majestic slowness resembling the Volga River - the symbol of Russia - Grosvenor begins his narration very meaningfully: "Russia is not a state; it is a world…"According to the traveler, the country's resources are inexhaustible. Grosvenor talks about Russia's achievements in industry, trade, agriculture. He believes it is capable of feeding half of the world. The population growth is enviable (according to his estimates, by the end of the 20th century 600 million people were supposed to live in Russia).

The main objects of his photographs are people. The magazine does not have any portraits of the tsar or his family, just numerous photographs of common people: industrialists, merchants, peasants and artisans.

In a way, with his impressions the author echoed the prediction of the famous French traveler Alexis De Tocqueville (1805-1859), who had written: “There are at the present time two great nations in the world ... the Russians and the Americans... Their starting-point is different, and their courses are not the same; yet each of them seems marked out by the will of Heaven to sway the destinies of half the globe.”

Grosvenor dedicated the "Russia and the United States" section to Russia's contribution to the formation of America. He reminded readers about Catherine the Great's refusal to send Cossacks to subdue the American colonies when King George III asked her, about Russia's many efforts in ending the war between the U.S. and Great Britain, about the friendly visit of Russian squadrons in New York and San Francisco during the American Civil War, which helped prevent foreign intervention. Many of these facts were a revelation for readers.

The magazine could not but stir Americans' interest in Russia. After such promotion Russia could only expect a flow of curious tourists, farseeing businessmen and so on. But the world stage darkened. WWI snuffed out the hopes of many nations. The chance to realize Grosvenor's optimistic hopes in the development of American-Russian relations was lost.

The National Geographic Magazine itself has not lost its interest in Russia. Since 1914 more than a hundred articles about the country have appeared on its pages. Today the magazine is published also in Russian with a circulation of 29,000 copies.
Alexander Potemkin was the last Soviet cultural attaché, and is now the executive director of the ARCCF.

On Nov. 19, the American-Russian Cultural Cooperation Foundation hosted a black-tie event in Washington, DC, honoring the role photojournalism has played in promoting closer U.S.-Russia relations.

During the event, the ARCCF presented Gilbert M. Grosvenor, honorary president of the National Geographic Society and Gilbert H. Grosvenor's grandson, with an award for the magazine's and his grandfather's contribution to American-Russian cultural cooperation.

Speaking on behalf of the National Geographic Society at the event, John Fahey, chairman of the organization's board, said: "Gilbert H. Grosvenor was a man ahead of his time. His remarkable cover story showcasing Russia...was groundbreaking for its beauty as well as its unique utlization of pictures to enhance the written word." 
© Alexander Potemkin / Russia Beyond the Headlines. 18 November, 2014


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 6:43 AM EST
Updated: Friday, 21 November 2014 6:54 AM EST
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Wednesday, 15 October 2014
New Schools Turn Back Clock to Train Russia's Girls in Virtues of Nobility
Topic: Imperial Russia

Smolny Institute for Noble Maidens. Last graduates of 1917
Copyright Notice: The following article was originally published in the October 12th, 2014 edition of Russia Beyond the Headlines. The author Anna Trofimova, owns the copyright of the work presented below.

Five schools that turn out ‘noble maidens’, just like in the times of the tsars, have recently opened in Russia. RBTH reports on the purpose these so-called ‘institutes for noble maidens’ served in the days of the Russian Empire and what their modern-day equivalents are like.

Two hundred and fifty years ago, in 1764, Russian Empress Catherine II (the Great) issued a decree establishing Russia’s very first Institute for Noble Maidens – the Smolny Institute in St. Petersburg. This institution was tasked with “giving the state educated women, good mothers, and useful members of the family and society,” as the decree reads.  
School for royal ladies
The institute accepted girls no older than six and provided them with a 12-year training course. According to the charter, their parents could be ranked no lower than colonel and state councilor. The institute also accepted the daughters of hereditary nobility for an annual fee. All pupils were prepared for the life of the royal court.

The training program included Russian literature and language, arts, geography, arithmetic, history, foreign languages, music, dance, drawing, conventional manners, and home economics. The girls lived according to a regimented daily routine and could only see their relatives on weekends and holidays, and only in the presence of the headmistress. They did not have the right to leave the institute prior to graduation, either of their own volition or at the wishes of their families. With the help of this institute, the Empress planned to snatch schoolgirls from their familiar surroundings and create a “new breed of people.” After Catherine’s death, the institute started accepting girls from a later age (nine or older) and deliberately preparing them for marriage to military men. Military wives needed to be educated women capable not only of rearing children, but also of engaging in small talk. The Smolny Institute existed right up until the 1917 revolution, producing women such as Maria Budberg (Maxim Gorky’s lover and an NKVD agent) and the writers Nina Berberova and Maria Dobrolyubova (a teacher, nurse, and revolutionary).

The Russian Empire had a total of 12 Institutes for Noble Maidens in different cities, including far-off Siberia (Irkutsk), the Urals (Orenburg), and present-day eastern Ukraine (Kharkov).
Boarding schools for the children of the military
Today, announcements recruiting girls for schools or preparatory courses for ‘noble maidens’ are becoming ever more commonplace. The largest such institution is the Ministry of Defense of Russia Boarding School for Girls, which was founded in 2008. This establishment uses as its inspiration pre-revolutionary ‘institutes for noble maidens’, leaving the old terms of enrollment, list of subjects, and daily schedules intact.

In order to matriculate at the Boarding School, a girl must come from a family of “servicemen who completed military service at remote military garrisons, from single-parent families, and large families, the daughters of deceased servicemen and of combatants decorated with government awards for the fulfillment of military duty,” according to the institution’s charter.

“Neither my parents nor I knew what sort of education was provided in these institutions,” said a graduate of the Boarding School who is now studying at a military university in Moscow and requested anonymity. “My enrollment was my parents’ decision. We lived in a remote garrison, and I could hardly imagine where I would end up.” “This type of school is adapted to the modern social environment. We don’t isolate the girls at all. We teach them things that are not taught in ordinary schools,” said Yelena Venediktova, director of studies at the Academy for Noble Maidens attached to the Novosibirsk Cadet Corps. Such subjects include homemaking, social practices (etiquette, behaviour and so on), and choreography; girls from the school dance the waltz together at balls with boys from the Cadet Corps. In contrast with pre-revolutionary noble maidens, modern ‘noble maidens’ prefer to continue their education, usually in the humanities or in the military field. This is the key difference: The girls not only leave the institute’s walls as cultured women and homemakers, but they can also compete with graduates from general schools for university admission.
© Anna Trofimova / Russia Beyond the Headlines. 15 October, 2014


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 12:05 AM EDT
Updated: Tuesday, 14 October 2014 6:16 PM EDT
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Monday, 1 September 2014
Russia Pines for the 19th Century
Topic: Imperial Russia

In recent years, the uniforms of the Kremlin guard regiments were redesigned to look more like those
of the Imperial Guard regiments from the time of Nicholas II. Photo © Artlook Photography
Copyright Notice: The following article was originally published in the August 17th, 2014 edition of The Moscow Times. The author, Alexei Bayer owns the copyright of the work presented below.

Speaking at the opening of a World War I memorial in Moscow earlier this month, President Vladimir Putin noted that victory in that war had been stolen from Russia.

Indeed, after the war, Russia stood to get Galicia and parts of eastern Prussia, effectively restoring rule over Poland. Moreover, France and Britain had agreed that Russia should fulfill its age-old imperial ambition by taking over the Bosporus, along with swaths of land on both banks, and gain the biggest prize of all, Tsargrad (Istanbul).

All that evaporated, however, when Lenin declared "peace without annexations" and took Russia out of the war. In his speech, Putin decried the missed territorial gains as a "betrayal of their own national interests" by the Bolsheviks.

But actually, the Bolsheviks did far more damage to Russia's national interests by taking it out of the modern capitalist system, in which on the eve of World War I Russia had been poised to make significant gains.

In fact, all the preconditions were in place for Russia to overtake the United States and Germany as the world's largest economy and most prosperous country. By far the largest country in the world, it had just began settling and exploring Siberia with the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway.

Russia was the breadbasket of Europe, and its grain exporters helped develop early hedging instruments on the London financial markets. It had vast natural resources feeding its growing industry in the west of the country and in the Urals. Two of the first 10 recipients of the Nobel Prize for medicine were Russians; no Russian has won it since. Russia's educational system, put in place under Nicholas I, was excellent, albeit narrowly based. Still, literacy was spreading: It went from 28 percent in 1897 to 40 percent in 1913, with the urban population already mostly literate.

But in the name of progress, the Bolsheviks not only killed off or expelled the best and the brightest from the country, but threw Russia into some kind of a warped version of the past.

They replaced money, the driving force of capitalism, with loyalty to communist ideals, individual initiative with collectivism, competition with rigid planning, information with lies and openness with the Iron Curtain. Elections were faked and general secretaries ruled for life, much like the monarchs of old. As though to underscore the neo-feudal nature of communism, the Soviet Union was stuck with a vast land empire even as other empires crumbled.

By the end of the last century, instead of being the world's richest nation, as it had looked set to become in 1913, Russia was one of the poorest and least developed in Europe. Finally, communism failed and the Soviet Union collapsed. Russia no doubt would have lost all the territories it could have won in World War I.

In the 1990s, Russia got a chance to rejoin the capitalist system. Instead, sky-high oil prices allowed it to coast without developing modern economic and political institutions. It never really left communism behind and now it is veering back to the past once more. It is pining away for the empire, seizing territory and even, in the words of Duma vice speaker Vladimir Zhirinovsky, itching to declare Vladimir Putin a kind of emperor.

And so, despite Putin's praise for pre-Soviet Russia, the country looks set once again to embark on a road to nowhere.

Alexei Bayer, a native Muscovite, lives in New York. His detective novel Murder at the Dacha was published by Russian Life Books in 2013. 
© Alexei Bayer / The Moscow Times. 01 September, 2014


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 7:15 AM EDT
Updated: Sunday, 7 September 2014 8:55 AM EDT
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