Abandoned 1867 Moscow, Russia. Where are the people?

Here we can observe the same issue of having no people in the streets of a 19th century city. This time it is Moscow Russia. The year in 1867.

A few of the photographs (last 2) will not show the streets, but I wanted to put those up anyways, in case you spot something in the architecture.

Clickable Panoramic Photos (4987x1351px)








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So... I took some time and examined these pictures, which are remarkably good for 1867, if we can believe the date, as always. I didn't do anything high tech, just made them as large as I could and looked at them in detail with my reading glasses on. I did come up with a few things, including one unusual observation that I will get to.
The immediate comment we get when we show old pictures in which nobody is visible is that the shutter speed was too slow and thus no object that moved would show up, or only as a blur. There is a lot of truth to that. Let me point out that, while I'm no professional photographer, my father was into photography and camera repair decades ago when I was growing up and I did use his darkroom to develop and print my own pictures. So I have a little more than a layman's point of view.
We can look at certain aspects of these pics and get an idea of exactly how fast the shutter speed was. In 2.jpg there is a blurry horse cart or buggy moving up the wide street to the left and there are ghosts of people visible along the closer railing of the big bridge in the foreground. These must have all been moving, but yet they are visible, though barely. However there appears to be someone sitting on a horse, against the railing on the left side of the river, by the stairs leading down to the boathouse, and the rider and horse are very clear. In 3.jpg there is what appears to be a store with a black sign with white Russian writing on it on the street that is center right of the picture. It has half-columns and at least six two-tone boxes on the sidewalk in front of it, with 5 steps leading up to it. There are several people there, standing on the lower steps alongside the street, two together, one of which has a white shirt, another a little ways up and another on the sidewalk in front of the next building up. Also in 3_1.jpg, at the far right toward the bottom but just to the left of the church, there appears to be an old lady sitting in front of the smaller building. In the same picture, on the left side, there is a group of people crossing the walk bridge/dam as well as one standing below in the water and another sitting to the left of the curve of the road just above them. Also in the same picture, on the far side of the river beyond the walk bridge there is some activity involving a couple of people and a few small boats. The two rowboats, one of which appears to have an occupant, to the right are fairly clear.
So we can see that people can be visible at this shutter speed but blurry if they are actually moving. So are there enough people visible for a city of this size? That remains the question but I would say no. For example, anywhere that there is water you usually have a lot of people walking, sitting or fishing along the sides but there are none other than what I mentioned above.
Another observation is that while we have plenty of chimneys there appears to be no smoke from any of them, nor any kind of haze over the city. And I saw no birds; they can't all be moving too fast for the camera but I can't explain their absence.
The lack of activity on the water is another unusual thing. In 2.jpg we can see what looks like the remains of barges in the water but the water level is clearly too low for ships of that size to move. What remains looks like they have been dismantled. Maybe there's another explanation but when we compare that to 3_1.jpg where we have lumberyards alongside the river on both sides of the dam we have to assume that barges could at one time bring lumber down the river. Maybe they still can on the upper part of the river but the lower part seems far too shallow. Yet we have a lumberyard on the lower part of the river that also has fish nets hanging off to the right where the three ladders are, indicating that at least vessels used to be able to reach it. Did the dam kill that lumberyard? The dam doesn't look new. Was the river partly filled in by dirt, maybe a mud flood? I don't see a lot of signs of mud flood, just two buildings that looked like they have long since been restored. One is a 3 story (2 1/2 story?) building on the far left of 4.jpg which has half windows on the ground floor that are at an angle to the ground. Another is a white bldg on the right side of 5.jpg which also has half windows at ground level and an odd half window above the awning over the elevated doorway.
So... on to the fun part.
Have you noticed how many ladders there are in these pictures, leaning against buildings and reaching all the way to the roofs? I count 5 in 1.jpg, 4 in 2.jpg, as many as 15 in 3.jpg, 5 in 3_1.jpg, possibly 13 in 4.jpg and 10 more in 5.jpg. Some are distant and one can only see the top of the ladder against the roof. I will take the time to point them out in just 3.jpg and 4.jpg.
3.jpg To begin with there are 3 ladders plus a ramp or chute along the right side of the long, L shaped series of buildings on the far right, following that series of roofs forward there's a lighter colored ladder sticking up between the roofs, forward of that there's something that looks like a ladder missing some rungs leaning against an ugly building, those are all on the backs of buildings fronting that main street, above that back several roofs there's a ladder leaning against a tall white bldg, as we move to the center panel, below and to the right of the number 43 there is a ladder going from the rooftop patio to the high roof on the right, below and to the left of that a ladder comes up between the roofs to go to the left side of a bldg, to the left of that bldg is a lower roof and then a tall bldg with a ladder sneaking up between the two small extensions on the front, then to the left and higher is an obvious ladder to the top of a large bldg, then to finish out the center panel go to the left two roofs and slightly down to see a ladder poking up leaning against a white bldg, oh, no, there's one more in the center panel, go midway between the last two ladders and up to the very large bldg to see a ladder leaning against it on the left, that's to the right of the big white cathedral back there, in the left panel there are three obvious ladders starting with the dark colored one at the bottom, then one above that a little to the right, then another in plain view above that, then there's another ladder poking up one building back and to the left of the dark ladder at the bottom, above the highest ladder I just mentioned is the number 38 and another ladder is visible to the left mainly visible due to its shadow.
4.jpg To begin at the right edge, about two thirds of the way back there's a dark ladder sticking up behind some trees going to the right side of a large bldg, then moving left and slightly down across the divider there's an obvious double ladder leaning against a darker bldg, above and to the left, a little further back than the first ladder, is a ladder leaning against a smaller white bldg, then going from the large hotel in the foreground #31 to the fancy steeple to its left and back, just above that steeple and to the left is another ladder leaning against the left side of a bldg, as we cross to the left of the center divider there's an obvious ladder in the bottom foreground, above that two roofs back and a little to the left is a ladder leaning against a darker colored house, the ladder half in shadow, from there go up past one roof and a little to the right and there's a ladder leaning against that house, the ladder visible mostly at the roof line or above, from there just up one bldg and to the right is a tan colored bldg with white around the windows and a ladder leaning against it on the right, if we go back to the darker house with the ladder half in shadow, the white house immediately to its left has a ladder and about three roofs up there's a ladder leaning against the front of a white bldg, to the right of that and a little back is a row of five round things (windows? decorations?) and immediately to the right of those is another ladder.
There are objects further back that look like ladders but are too distant to be sure as well as hard to describe. I never did find Waldo.
So why all the ladders? One typically doesn't store ladders against one's house or bldg because that acts like an invitation to unwanted guests like thieves, opportunists and government inspectors. Was it just time to clean their roofs? Had they all been trying to get up to a higher place for some reason? This made me look all the roofs over but there's a fairly normal selection of nice, clean roofs, dirty roofs and some roofs that are under repair or construction. Two buildings stood out, however.
In 3_1.jpg, in the right panel far back with its roof aligned with that distant bridge is a dark building that looks like it is either under construction or restoration. It has scaffolding around it on two levels with ramps going up to those levels on the left side and its obviously getting a new roof.
The smoking gun may be in 5.jpg, in the center of the right panel. There's a huge building whose roof has been badly damaged and the left side of the building above the columns is destroyed. There are no ladders or scaffolding to indicate it is under construction. This may be one "they haven't gotten to yet". What caused this damage?


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Interesting... I know it’s wrong to quote from the CIA’s encyclopaedia but...
Fire of Moscow (1812) - Wikipedia
The 1812 Fire of Moscow broke out on 14 September 1812, when Russian troops and most of the remaining residents abandoned the city of Moscow just ahead of French Emperor Napoleon's vanguard troops entering ... and: Napoleon hoped this battle would win the war for him, but the RussianArmy slipped away and continued to retreat, leaving Smolensk to burn. ... A week later, Napoleon entered Moscow, only to find it abandoned, and the city was soon ablaze, with the French blaming the fire on Russian arsonists.

The Russians burnt Moscow so Napoleon couldn’t have it yet only 55 years later we see a completely rebuilt city. Perhaps that could explain the ladders and damage? But 55 short years to get it back from a burnt out shell to a city in this condition? That, for me anyway, is pushing my ‘hard to believe’ button.


Essentially, there is no photographic evidence to suggest the population of this city was so high at this time. We would see something... motion blur, horses, if not actual people. So unless everyone was in lockdown or everyone had the exact same sleep schedule, it's fairly unbelievable for the city to appear so vacant.

Seems to me that for some reason we've always had more buildings than the population required, continuing to this day. This obviously becomes more inexplicable when going backwards in time when considering the supposed effort required to build these structures.
But 55 short years to get it back from a burnt out shell to a city in this condition?
At least that's more plausible than San Francisco.
Essentially, there is no photographic evidence to suggest the population of this city was so high at this time.
This way what did they need such a big city for?

Methinks 300k - 500k is not enough.

What would be the expected population numbers purely based on the way this city looks?


What would be the expected population numbers purely based on the way this city looks?
I do not know how you would answer that. As you know, in the current era, we have the phenomenon of these vacant cities in China, which throws a wrench in any idea that construction has to be based on population need. Then there's the cultural aspect (which I don't think we understand well at all in the present time), whereby clearly we used to build for not just utility but for artistic reasons, often times tied to conveying power and authority to the individuals and organizations that commissioned the construction.

Of course that doesn't jive with the myth of a hard life with limited technology and resources... so as usual, something is wrong about our mainstream historical narrative, but also as usual I'm not sure if we're dealing with lost cities found, technology that exceeded modern capabilities, inaccurate dating/population numbers, or some awful combination of all of those and more. Maybe history's a lie agreed upon because the truth is too difficult to discern.


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There should be horses and horse drawn coaches outside of any building being visited by people who have come from farther than walking distance, just as we park our cars outside of places we visit. Not visible in these pictures.
I think if this city was burned to thwart Napoleon then they must have only burned certain structures, but that's a possibility.
My thought on the vacant cities in China is that all the structures are the same and mass produced, which is not what we see here.

At the risk of being long-winded(too late), let me make a point related to photography and shutter speeds. When we see those ghost images of the people on the bridge in the foreground, its somewhat logical to think that there could be ghost images of people all over the photos in the distance and we would never be able to make them out. That's actually the opposite of reality. The ghost images are created by motion in relation to the eye of the camera. So a pedestrian that is closer to the camera will move a greater distance during the time that the shutter is open than a pedestrian that is farther away within the field of view of the camera. Thus objects in motion that are at a greater distance will move less from the camera's point of view and will be more solid and visible.
I'm sure you guys get what I'm saying but let me give an example anyway. If we used the zoomed in picture 2.jpg as a basis, and we assume the shutter is staying open a half a second, then those pedestrians in the foreground on the bridge will have moved a couple of mm across our computer screen during that time. However a pedestrian that is 200 meters away along the road will have moved only a fraction of a mm across our screen during that half a second, thus they would be much clearer in the image. If they were moving toward or away from us their apparent motion would be even less and once again they would be clear.
So other than the possibility of a fast moving object that is up close, what we are seeing is what's there. Nobody.


My thought on the vacant cities in China is that all the structures are the same and mass produced, which is not what we see here.
Yeah, to be clear, I wasn't trying to really compare the two situations at all, but rather just pointing out that city planning and construction isn't always based on current population levels. In theory, it should be far easier to produce cities today of steel, cement, and drywall than these stone and brick buildings in Moscow 150 years ago.

Although, I don't think we should throw out the idea of cities in the past being "mass produced" either:
@KorbenDallas, didn't you write another article on some 19th century catalog that seemed to feature pre-fab houses? I can't find it for the life of me now.


You got it! Thanks. I was searching for "kits" and "catalog" but those precise words didn't actually appear the article. Swear I looked all the way through "Buildings and Structures" but I'm finding that I'm missing a few things trying to navigate the site in a mobile browser. I also foolishly thought that I had read everything you'd posted since launching the blog, since I cleared out "New posts" but it looks like there's some sort of time limit for what's considered "new" (not just "new" to me).

Feel free to delete any of this drivel. Just thought I'd mention it in case anyone else doesn't realize you really need to go into the individual topic categories to see everything posted.
Feel free to delete any of this drivel. Just thought I'd mention it in case anyone else doesn't realize you really need to go into the individual topic categories to see everything posted.
Nah, let it stay. I think this topic of kit houses needs to be advertised a bit more. It kind of explains things like this. It sure needs further research.

Whoever feels like exploring, please post in the comments section of the below article:

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