Niche in Back Wall of Shah-i Zindah Mosque. Samarkand


The Shah-i Zindah (Persian for “living king”) necropolis is located at the outskirts of Samarkand. Situated on an ancient burial ground, it is revered as a memorial to Kusam-ibn-Abbas, a cousin of the Prophet Muhammad. Shown here is the main peshtak (facade arch) of a mausoleum built in 1361 adjacent to the Kusam-ibn-Abbas shrine. Although its patron has not been identified, it was apparently intended for a prominent noblewoman. In addition to ceramic mosaics, the mausoleum has glazed carved terra-cotta columns and panels with intricate floral, geometric, and inscriptional designs. Curving tendrils link floral patterns, including the lotus blossom. Above the bricked portal is an inscription panel, and the arch niche culminates in a complex geometric design. The image is by Russian photographer Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii (1863–1944), who used a special color photography process to create a visual record of the Russian Empire in the early 20th century. 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. In 1911 he made two trips to Turkestan (present-day Uzbekistan and neighboring states), where he devoted special attention to monuments of Islamic architecture.

Date Created

Subject Date


Title in Original Language

Ниша задней стены в проходе мертвых. Самарканд

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: September 30, 2016