Dachas in Russia ~ 1910

From “A General’s Dacha in Yekaterinberg” by Prokudin-Gorskii

From 1909 to 1912, Russian photographer Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii (1863–1944) made several trips to the territory around the Ural Mountains, where he photographed railroad installations, factories, urban settings, and natural scenes. In 1909 and 1910 he photographed extensively in the Urals region, including the city of Yekaterinburg (named Sverdlovsk 1924–91). This photograph was taken in a resort area known as General’s Dacha, located to the north of City Pond. The park was formed in the 1830s, when a pond dam was constructed on the small Ol’khovka River, a tributary of the Iset’ River. Large wooden dachas were built in the area, but when Prokudin-Gorskii visited, it had become rather neglected. The two-story dacha seen here is surrounded by a dense growth of pine and birch trees. In front of the home is a wooden bathing shed and to the right, a pier with a rustic railing. Seen in the right background is an arched bridge built in the style of Western landscape parks. Despite their dilapidated state, these modest structures look beautiful as reflected here in the still waters of the pond. In 1927, this area was renamed Proletarian Dachas. It is now occupied by a large housing development. Prokudin-Gorskii used a special color photography process to create a visual record of the Russian Empire in the early 20th century. Some of his photographs date from about 1905, but the bulk of his work is from between 1909 and 1915, when, with the support of Tsar Nicholas II and the Ministry of Transportation, he undertook extended trips through many different parts of the empire.

There are two interesting issues with regard to this Prokudin-Gorskii topic. First is the history and culture surrounding Dachas in Russia, while the second is the location of this particular dacha, Yekaterinburg, the location where the overthrown Romanov family was executed in July 1918.

Dachas have existed for centuries, surviving revolutions, purges, and falls. They remain an integral, if at times hard-to-define part of Russian life; many Russians scoff at them, many hold them dear, and many, oddly, do both. Yet “dacha season” remains so widespread that stores announce dacha season sales in ads nearly as large and pervasive as those for “back-to-school” in America.

Dachas are basically summer homes, away from the city, typically of very simple design, and usually with a garden plot where vegetables are usually grown for the family’s consumption. Today, many of the average people, who live in the larger cities throughout Russia, can and do have dachas in the rural areas outside of cities. Certainly, as above, some dachas of the elite were grandiose. I had the opportunity to spend a day at such a simple dacha with a lab worker from the local metals assay plant when I was on assignment in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk. The dacha was three rooms including a sauna. Outside was a garden where the family’s vegetable garden provide the needs of the worker’s family.

The term “dacha” was born of early medieval Russian. It meant “a gift given publicly and later cane to specifically mean “property given and used in feudal fashion”. A dacha could include land, houses, outbuildings, serfs, etc.. . . owning a dacha became popular with the “middle class” of bureaucrats and businessmen and came to mean “summer house”.

The main controversy revolved around whether the dacha should be part of the bourgeois past or the communist future. Now in today’s Russian society, A dacha usually lays a 1-2 hour local train ride away. These local trains are usually overcrowded with people of every social class and, we have seen, the occasional livestock. For those fortunate enough to own a car (it is common to have a dacha, but no car), the trip can take twice as long, as the roads are not built to handle the mass exodus that occurs every weekend.(Dacha Wanna Be Russian? – The School of Russian and Asian Studies, by Josh Wilson)

The picture of the General’s dacha described above was locate just outside of Yekaterinburg, the city where Tsar Nicholas II and his family were imprisoned and then executed by the Bolsheviks in July 1918. Since the date of the color photo was around 1910 and the execution in took place 1918, I wonder if any of the plotters and/or executioners stayed at this dacha or were plans of the Bolsheviks formulated in this dacha. What was the attitude of the Bolsheviks towards the concepts of dacha since they were typically owned and used by the elite bureaucrats and capitalist businessmen.


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