Birthday anniversary of Nikolai M. Przhevalsky, famous traveler, geographer, explorer of the Central Asia

12 April 1839

”Like a free bird who cannot live in a cage, I can’t live in civilization,

where everyone is first of all a slave of social life conditions. But a scope of a desert is what I dream about day and night. Give me piles of gold - I will not exchange my wild freedom for it.”

N. M. Przhevalsky


March 31 (April 12), 1839 in the village of Kimborovo, the Smolensk Province (now Pochinok District, the Smolensk Region) in a family of small landowners was born Nikolai Mikhailovich Przhevalsky, Russian geographer, traveler and explorer of the Central Asia, author, Major General (from 1886), honorary member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences (from 1878).

Nikolai Przhevalsky’s father died in 1846. The boy was brought up by his uncle, who fostered in him a passion for hunting and travel. After graduating in 1855 from Smolensk high school, Nikolai enlisted in the army, and in 1856 was made an officer. In 1863 he graduated from the General Staff Academy and was appointed a lecturer of history and geography at the Warsaw Cadet Academy. In 1867 he was transferred to Nikolaevsk, and sent for two years to study the Ussuri territory. His work "On the mixed ethnic population in the southern part of Primorye Region" was awarded the silver medal of the Russian Geographical Society.

The main work of began four Przhevalsky's life were four journeys to regions of Central Asia unexplored by Europeans.

During the first expedition to Central Asia in 1870-1873, exploring Mongolia, China and Tibet, Przhevalsky discovered: Beyshan plateau, Tsaidam basin, three ridges of the Kunlun Mountains and seven major lakes. The results of the expedition brought him a worldwide fame. Przhevalsky was awarded the highest award of the Geographical Society - Great Konstantinovskaya medal. In the second Central Asian Expedition of 1876-1877 Przhevalsky discovered the Altyntag Mountains, described for the first time the Lop Nur Lake (now dried up) and the rivers Tarim and Konchedari feeding it; the border of the Tibet Plateau was "moved" by more than 300 km to the north. In the third Central Asian expedition of 1879-1880 he identified a number of ranges in Nanshan, Kunlun and Tibetan Plateau (including the Thang and Bokalyktag), filmed Lake Koko Nor, the upper reaches of Huang He and Yangtze River. During the fourth (second Tibet) expedition, 1883-1885, the explorer found a number of lakes and ranges in the Kunlun Mountain and, having passed 1.8 miles, contoured the Tsaidam basin; indicated the existence of Pobeda Peak (7 thousand 439 m) nearly 60 years before its opening and was the first to describe it.

In 1888, starting a new journey, on the way to Karakol Przhevalsky fell ill, and a few days after the arrival to the city, on October 20 (November 1), died and was buried on the shore of Lake Issyk-Kul.

All Przhevalsky's researches were conducted under his personally developed program, including the military and the visual observation; astronomical definition of latitudes (and during the last trip - of the longitudes as well) of the most important areas; barometric determination of altitudes, meteorological observations, study of flora and fauna with the compilation of the richest collections on the site. Ethnographic observations were supplemented by drawings and photographs.

Przhevalsky presented scientific results of his expeditions in a number of books that provide a vivid picture of the nature and characteristics of topography, climate, rivers, lakes, flora and fauna of the investigated areas. During the expeditions rich zoological collections (over 7500 pieces) were made; several new species of animals, including a wild camel, a wild horse (Przhevalsky horse), etc. were discovered. His herbarium contains about 15-16 thousand specimens of plants that make up 1, 700 species, of which 218 species and 7 genera had been described for the first time. The traveler had also gathered the richest mineralogical collections.

N. M. Przhevalsky was elected an honorary member of many European academies and awarded with their prizes. In 1891, in honor of Przhevalsky, the Russian Geographic Society established a silver medal and a prize bearing his name; in 1946 the gold medal of Przhevalsky was established. After the outstanding traveler were named: a town, a range in the Kunlun, a glacier in Altai, and other geographic objects, as well as several species of animals and plants. The monuments to Przhevalsky have been raised near the Lake Issyk-Kul (at his grave) and in St. Petersburg.


Lit.: Анучин Д. Н. О людях русской науки и культуры. М., 1952; Гавриленко В. М. Русский путешественник Н. М. Пржевальский. М., 1974; Каратаев Н. М. Николай Михайлович Пржевальский – первый исследователь природы Центральной Азии. М.; Л., 1948; Козлов П. К. Великий русский путешественник Н. М. Пржевальский. Л., 1929; Мурзаев Э. М. Н. М. Пржевальский. М., 1953; Пржевальский Н. М. Путешествие в Уссурийском крае 1867-1869 гг. СПб., 1870; Пржевальский Н. М. Монголия и страна тангутов. Трёхлетнее путешествие в Восточной нагорной Азии. Т. 1–2. СПб., 1875-1876; Пржевальский Н. М. От Кульджи за Тянь-Шань и на Лобнор. М., 1878; Пржевальский Н. М. Из Зайсана через Хами в Тибет и на верховья Жёлтой реки. СПб., 1883; Пржевальский Н. М. От Кяхты на истоки Жёлтой реки. Исследование северной окраины Тибета и путь через Лобнор по бассейну Тарима. СПб., 1888.


Based on the Presidential Library’s materials:

Знаменитый русский путешественник Николай Михайлович Пржевальский. СПб., 1911;

Материалы полевой поездки офицеров Генерального штаба Кавказского военного округа в 1890 году. Тифлис, 1891;

Уссурийский край: новая территория России / Н. Пржевальский // Вестник Европы. Г. 5 1870, т. 3, [май]. СПб., 1870. С. 236-267.