Adobe Buildings in Desert Plains


Shown here are ruins of the fabled city of Merv, situated on the Murghab River in the Mary region of present-day Turkmenistan. Settled as early as the third millennium BC, Merv was taken by the Arabs in 651 and became a staging point for Arab conquests in Central Asia. Merv reached its zenith under the Seljuks in the late 11th and 12th centuries, when it was one of the world’s largest cities and a major stop along the Silk Road. Destroyed by the Mongols in 1221, Merv never regained its former importance. This view includes the imposing keshk (citadels) of Small Kyz-Kala (left) and Large Kyz-Kala. Between them are the ruins of the Mausoleum of Sultan Sandjara and the distant mosque of Yusuf Khamadan. 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 parts of the empire. Prokudin-Gorskii was particularly interested in recently acquired territories of the Russian Empire such as Turkestan in Central Asia (present-day Uzbekistan and neighboring states), which he visited on a number of occasions, including two trips in 1911. Among his goals was to photograph the region’s architectural and archeological monuments.

Date Created

Subject Date

Title in Original Language

Саманные здания в пустыне

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