Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Engineering an Empire: Russia

The first states on the territory of what would evolve into the Russian empire arose in Transcaucasia and Central Asia between the ninth and sixth centuries BC. Constantly threatened by their stronger neighbours, these early states still succeeded in developing distinct cultural and political traditions, providing the foundations for what would be a mighty and enduring empire.

At the height of its power, the empire stretched across fifteen times zones, incorporated over a hundred different ethnicities, and made up a sixth of the world’s landmass. From the outset, Russia’s rulers carefully engineered their sprawling empire, adapting foreign technologies in order to seize power, capture territory, increase trade, and build greater and ever more grandiose symbols of Russia's imperial progress.

Building the infrastructure of this empire came at an enormous price, and Russia's dramatic history is tragically littered with the bodies of the serfs and slaves who built the country’s crowning achievements. As the empire grew ever larger, it consumed upwardly spiralling quantities of resources and human lives.

For Russia's peasants, the construction of a modern empire entailed higher taxes, backbreaking labour and brutal warfare. By the mid nineteenth century, a significant current of opinion within the country was calling for reform and political and social modernisation. Between 1855 and 1881, Alexander II attempted to improve the lot of the peasantry with his ‘Great Reforms’. The ‘Tsar liberator’ emancipated the serfs in 1861, but this grand action did little to improve the lives of the peasants on a practical level.

The comparatively liberal rule of Alexander II was followed by the repressive and reactionary conservatism of Alexander III and Nicholas II. As these rulers continued to push progress at an unsustainable pace, Russia’s disenfranchised population reacted in a revolution that altered global history. Using cinematic recreations and cutting-edge CGI, we investigate the construction of the Moscow Kremlin, the building of St. Petersburg, and the creation of the Trans-Siberian railroad; we provide viewers with a revolutionary look at the architecture and infrastructure that enabled the rise and fall of the Russian Empire.


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