Pavel Alekseev (Gorno-Altaisk)
In the 19th and early 20th century, southern Siberia became an attractive place for European travelers interested in discovering and exploring this mountain system on the Russian-Chinese frontier. After the Parisian publication in 1842 of Peter Chikhachev’s book «Voyage scientifique dans l’Altaï oriental», this space gained a reputation as «a Museum of wildness in the open air» – nature, aborigines and even Russian officials and colonists of southern Siberia were described by Europeans as typically Eastern. This space was both a space of primeval innocence and poverty, and of barbarous cruelty and cunning.
On the one hand, southern Siberia was a part of the Russian Empire – it was incorporated into Imperial practices, christianized and served as an Outpost of Russia in the region. On the other hand, this land was the habitat of peoples at the lowest stage of civilization. Wild rites, cruel customs and naive worldview of the «children of the mountains» subjected to double oppression (by tribal leaders and by Russian officials) constitute the main feature of the image of Altai, which until the 21st century determines the semiotic status of this Russian mounain frontier.
At the same time, southern Siberia was interesting not in itself, but as a complex barrier on the way to the East: to China, the Kazakh and Mongolian steppes. Based on the book of Chikhachev and travelogues of such English travelers of the mid-19th – early 20th century as Thomas and Lucy Atkinson, Harald Swayne and Prince San Donato, we will see how the Altai mountains were included in the European discourses of Orientalism.