The concept of a Potemkin village dates back to the late 18th century, when tales spread that the Russian military leader and governor Grigoriy Potyomkin (Potemkin) had ordered the construction of temporary, false-facaded ‘villages’ in his territory to impress visiting officials. The areas of the southern Russian Empire under Potyomkin’s governorship (‘New Russia‘, today’s southern Ukraine) were decimated after having been conquered from the Ottomans, and the two sides were about to go to war again. As the tales go, Catherine II (‘The Great’) was traveling through the area along with numerous officials, ambassadors, and Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II. In order to impress the foreign dignitaries, Potyomkin ordered a group of false villages to be built along the Dnieper River that would make the region appear more prosperous than it was. Supposedly, the villages were erected long enough for the dignitaries to pass by and see them. Peasants were also conscripted into portraying townspeople.Once the dignitaries left, the fake villages would be disassembled; their parts (along with the peasants) being transported downriver to be reassembled in a new location to provide the illusion of even more villages.
The legitimacy of the story is highly questionable, but it has left us with the phrase ‘Potemkin village’ to describe anything (a building, a town, an economy) built with the intention of fooling someone into thinking a situation is better than it actually is. In the latest TBG post at Google Sightseeing, we’ve assembled a collection of fake buildings and landscapes, including an actual modern-day Potemkin village, to start you off on your own Potemkin journey. View the article here.