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Warehouse for Mineral Water in Borzhom

From the World Digital Library’s Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii Collection: Warehouse for Mineral Water. Borzhom. 

The picture I chose is a warehouse for mineral water in Borzhom. It was captured by Prokudin-Gorskii in 1912. During the early 1800s, the area was turned into a resort for elites. The water was bottled and sold because it was thought to hold restorative properties. This particular building was spa building in the resort for those who came to visit. The use of this area is interesting because it’s development, from 1820 to the 1870s, was during a time that was supposed to be full of change in Russia. The government was attempting to appear to be creating an environment that allowed the peasantry to be more independent, but instead, the nobles and elites were able to flourish.

After the loss of the Crimean wars, the government of Russia was pressured to emancipate the serfs and create a more equal government system (Freeze 203). By 1857 Nazimov Rescript was issued by the government to organize assemblies of the nobility to discuss the terms of emancipation for their regions, but the rescript just set basic parameters of the reform: the landlord retained land and police powers, but there were provisions for peasant land purchases and self-administration (Freeze 204). Emancipation was a blow to the nobilities profit area, causing them to lose a lot of land, and take a blow in the agriculture industry.

The use of the Borzhom region as an escape for nobles and elites shows the division that still existed between the serfdom and the elites even after emancipation occurred. The economic classes were separate and this ability of certain members of Russian society to spend their money on a resort for water that was seen as restorative demonstrates this well.

This region was further developed in the late 1890s by Grand Duke Mikhail Romanov, who issued the first bottling plant in the region. What was originally his vacation home soon turned into a profitable industrial area, attracting various elite, and interesting them in buying the bottled water that was so highly sought after. The production of the product contributed to the family’s great wealth and the expansion of the separation between the ruling and working classes in Russia.

This picture grabbed my attention because it seemed like a cabin in the woods, possible on a nobles plot of land. I never would have known that there was a region that was solely known for its bottling of water and their belief that the mineral water was restorative. It was really interesting to read how the elite and nobility were able to profit as well as afford something so luxurious at the time of a lot of economic disagreement and change.

7 Comments

  1. parkerleep

    What a fascinating and well written post. You’re right – at first glance it does seem like a peaceful summer home. Who would have known that it has such a fascinating past? Good observation concerning the social classes. Emancipating the serfs was good in name but closing that schism was a much more drawn out and difficult process. Great post and thanks for sharing!

  2. Kathryn Walters

    I think you made excellent observations of this photo, and it just goes to show the dividing line between the social groups. The elite felt threatened by the liberal movements coming from below and resisted in ways such as this to boast their ‘supremacy’.

  3. Agree with Kathryn and Parker! I really appreciate the connection you make between what originally interested you about the image and the context you uncovered. Nicely done.

  4. Hit post too quickly — sorry about that! Wanted to add / ask about where exactly Borzhom is and why that’s relevant? Lots of people chose images from the Urals and Siberia but this comes from the Caucasus. Would love to hear more about that.

  5. Great post! I thought you did a great job connecting something as simple as a bottle of water to the larger inequality happening in Russia at the time. The fact that elites were spending time and money travelling to spas and buying bottled water while the lower classes were struggling to own land says a lot about this period in Russian history.

  6. Brian Nolte

    I found this to be a very interesting post. This shows that the Great Reforms did not have a very significant effect and the nobility still enjoyed their power and privilege. It is also a great example of the vast wealth that the Russian elite had in order to afford such luxuries compared to the average working Russian.

  7. elizabethcampbell

    At first, I didn’t really know much about the region, I just chose the image because I thought it was an interesting demonstration of the elites versus the peasants during the time period. However, I discovered that Borzhom is in what is now modern-day Georgia and the Russians conquered it from the Ottoman Empire in the 1820s. It is located on the interior of modern-day Georgia, close to a river. It gave Russia not only access to a river but proximity to the Black Sea. It was interesting that it became a resort for elites too since it was conquered territory.

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