The Ural mountains are a range that spans from the northern tip of western Russia to the southern tip and form a border between the continents of Europe and Asia. The town of Miass, which this photograph overlooks, is situated in the Miass River Valley and has its origins in copper smelting dating back to 1773. It eventually became a hub for gold prospectors, however the population remained small. Then in 1891, the town became the western starting point of the sprawling Trans-Siberian Railroad. Prokudin-Gorskii took this photo from a hill in the Ilmenskii Range, and the view is breathtaking.
There’s Gold in them there Hills!
The town of Miass originated as a copper smelting site, and later added iron smelting. It was then realized that a significant deposit of gold resided in the mountains straddling the river valley, and the town became a popular site for prospectors. Despite this, the town’s population never exploded such as that of a San Francisco in the United States around the same time. This is an interesting fact considering the political and social climate of Imperial Russia at the time, and highlights the differences between the cultures of the United States and Russia. Whereas many American citizens had the freedom to practice capitalism and run off to the hills of California to dig for gold, most Russian citizens were still forced to remain as peasant farmers or at best travel to the cities to become factory workers. Even with the emancipation of the serfs in February of 1861, many restrictions such as redemption payments, poll taxes, and passport restricted travel kept the former serfs bound to the land which they now ‘owned'(Freeze 207).
The original path of the Trans-Siberian Railroad was meant to stretch from Vladivostok on the Pacific coast to Moscow in the West. However, after the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05, officials feared Japanese takeover of Manchuria(rightfully so!) and a much more circuitous route was chosen to avoid the region. The project was initiated by Tsar Alexander III, who saw the project as one ‘of the people’, which led to the railroads construction using Russian labor and resources. Construction of the railroad was an enduring and arduous task to say the least. The builders – mostly exiled prisoners and soldiers – faced horrid weather conditions, permafrost, river crossings, and nearly impassable terrain. At some points, mountains needed to be blown through using explosives in order to create tunnels. This disconnect between the Nobility and the peasantry really shows in the construction of the rail line, considering the fact that the Russian government decided against using foreign investors to help fund the project, opting instead to take money out of the Russian treasury. Despite this fact, the completion of the railroad in 1903 – an astonishing feat in and of itself – resulted in a significant economic boost for Russia.
Why I Chose it?
Apart from the breathtaking scenery in this image, I chose it based on the location it depicted. The town of Miass was the original launching point of the Trans-Siberian railroad, and the railway station constructed there represents a turning point in Russian economic development. With the onset of construction, the idea of industrialization must have been in mind. That idea of industrialization led to immense economic and social change in Russia, resulting in things such as the rise of the intelligentsia and the rise of factories and workers in major cities.
The construction of the Trans-Siberian Railroad itself characterizes a shift in Russian economic policy, from one of an agrarian and rural nature to one of industry and development. Without this shift and its social implications, I think that many of the revolutionary movements during this period would have been significantly delayed, or at least altered in their ideologies.
Freeze, G. L. (2002). Russia: a history. Oxford: Oxford University Press.