Vitebsk. General View of the Eastern Part from the Bell Tower of the Cathedral


In 1911–1912, in connection with the centenary of the 1812 Napoleonic campaign against Russia, Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii (1863–1944) photographed sites along the invasion route. Among them was Vitebsk, located on the Daugava (also known as the Western Dvina) River and its tributary, the Vitba River, in what is now Belarus. Vitebsk is generally thought to have been founded in the mid-10th century by Princess Olga. In 1318, Vitebsk became part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and then Poland until the partition of 1772, when it was absorbed by the Russian Empire. The French occupied Vitebsk from July 16 until October 26 (November 7, old style), 1812. Although looted during the occupation, the town suffered relatively light damage. This 1912 view shows the eastern part of town from the bell tower of the Dormition Cathedral. Prominent on the left is the Cathedral of Saint Nicholas, built in the Baroque style in 1716–31 as a Jesuit church. After the expulsion of the Jesuits from Russia in 1820, the cathedral was granted to the Uniates. Prokudin-Gorskii used a special color photography process to create a visual record of the Russian Empire. Some of Prokudin-Gorskii’s 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.

Date Created

Subject Date

Title in Original Language

Витебск. Общий вид восточной части с колокольни кафедральнаго собора

Type of Item

Physical Description

Glass negative (presented as a digital color composite)


  • Prokudin-Gorskii’s photographic work survives primarily in two forms: 1,901 black-and-white triple-frame glass plate negatives, made with color separation filters, which Prokudin-Gorskii used to make color prints and lantern slides; and 12 albums of sepia-tone prints, made from the glass negatives, which Prokudin-Gorskii compiled as a record of his travels and studies. The Library of Congress purchased the glass plate negatives and the albums from the Prokudin-Gorskii family in 1948. In 2004, the Library of Congress had digital color composites made from all the surviving glass negatives using a software algorithm to automatically align the color components. As with most historical photographs, title and subject identifications are corrected and enhanced through new research. Current information on the collection is at

Last updated: October 7, 2016