In 1830, a man named Maxim Kozhevnikov found emerald crystals near a river in the Sverdlovsk region of Russia's Ural Mountains.
He likely had no idea how valuable the area he'd stumbled across actually was -- it's been estimated that the Malyshevsky, or Mariinsky, mine built there contains about 90 percent of Russia's emerald reserves, making it Europe's largest emerald deposit. Though it has changed hands multiple times since organized mining began there, production is still going on in the area after a few years of inactivity.
Photographer and urban explorer Mikhail Mishainik from Mines of Ural recently got to see the Mariinsky mine for himself, and he has some seriously stunning photos to show for it.
Soon after Kozhevnikov's discovery, several mines were developed to harvest emerald deposits in the Ural Mountains. The Mariinsky mine was built in the village of Malyshev.
All of the emerald deposits were found within six years. Each of the mines was explored and developed until 1917.
The Mariinsky was considered the best of the mines. It produced high-quality emeralds, phenacite, and rutile.
However, emerald mining was put to the side in the 1930s when the area came under Soviet control. The Mining Department of the Ministry of Engineering focused more on mining minerals containing beryllium and uranium, which were needed by the military.
A copper alloy called beryllium bronze was produced to make Soviet tanks, aircraft parts, and machine guns.
Explosives were often used to mine the minerals. This destroyed parts of the mines and the emeralds as well.
The Mariinsky mine was run by the Soviet Ministry of Atomic Energy until 1993, when ownership was transferred to Izumrudniye kopi Urala (Emerald Mines of the Urals). However, the company declared bankruptcy in 1997.
The mine belonged to several other companies that also went bankrupt over the years. Finally, a license to it was issued to the Kaliningrad Amber Plant.
Production had stopped for several years, but resumed in 2011.