Petr Semenov-Tyan-Shansky is an eminent geographer, a major public figure and a vice-chairman of the Russian Geographical Society for several decades.
The future scientist was born the 2nd of January (the 14th of January according to Gregorian style) of 1827 in a manor house of Urusovo village of the Ryazan Province in thearistocratic family. His grandfather took part in Suvorov's Alpine campaign, his father was a hero of the battle of Borodino and made his mark as a gifted playwrightin the fullness of time.
After graduating from the school of the Guards Ensigns in St. Petersburg Semenov, who liked nature and was addicted to collecting from his childhood, he entered the natural history department of St. Petersburg University in 1845. He celebrated graduating from the high school in a very unusual way – with the hike from St. Petersburg to Moscow.
In 1849 Petr Petrovich, who had already shown great interest to the geography by that time, is being elected as a member of the Geographical Society, which was founded four years earlier. From that moment the destiny of the scientist and the destiny of the Russian Geographical Society are weaved so tightly, that is not possible to determine where the history of the Society ends, and where the family chronicles of Semenov begin.
Petr Semenov of the Russian Geographical Society: «This is a free and open for everyone who is imbued with love to the motherland and deep indestructible belief in the future of the Russian state and Russian people corporation.
Petr Petrovich was dreaming to contribute to the geography, studying the «white spots» on the world map. The biggest unknown territory at that time was Central Asia and absolutely mysterious, known only by ancient Chinese sources Tyan-Shan. And that is what was written by Semenov of that region: «To penetrate deep into Asia to the snowy peaks of this inaccessible ridge, which was thought to be volcanic just on the grounds of …Chinese scant details by the great Humboldt, and to bring him some samples from the wreckage of this ridge, and bring home - a rich collection of flora and fauna, newfound for the science of the country – that was what seemed to be the most tempting exploit for me».
He brought his dream to life in 1856-1857. Fearing the refusal of permission for that journey, Semenov claimed in the Society that he was coming to Altai and «to the adjoining parts of the Kirghiz steppes». His way to Tyan-Shan laid through Omsk, Barnaul, Rudny Altai, Semipalatinsk and Vernoye fortification (Alma-Ata). On his way there Petr Petrovich met his friend – a writer Fyodor Dostoevsky who had been exiled to Semipalatinsk.
Semenov managed to penetrate to the depth for the mountain country, mysterious for his contemporaries. He drew the scheme of the ridges of Tyan-Shan, explored the Issyk-Kul Lake, discovered the upper reaches of Syrdarya, saw the mountain group Tengri-Tag and the majestic pyramid of Khan-Tengri, reached the glaciers, which originate from the group of Tengri-Tag. The explorer determined the absence of active volcanoes on Tyan-Shan (that time that was thought to be an irrefutable statement), proved that eternal snows lie on Tyan-Shan at very high altitude, specified vertical natural zones of the Tyan-Shan, discovered tens of plant species unknown to science. His giant merit is that he drafted the first orographic scheme of Tyan-Shan in the form of latitudinal ranges. Besides, he gathered the richest collections of the rocks and plants.
The part of these research took place in a tense military and political situation of internecine strife of Kyrgyz tribes and demanded great personal courage form Petr Petrovich.
Semenov laid the authentic basis of the geological and geographical knowledge about Tyan-Shan. This is a merit to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his expedition (the year of 1906) was marked with the adding to the surname of Semenov the component «Tyan-Shansky».
In the year of 1873 he was elected vice president of the Society and occupied this post irremovably till his death in 1914. He published his first (a three-volume) history of the acting of the Society for the first 50 years of its existence.
Heading the Geographical Society, Semenov-Tyan-Shansky distinguished himself as a great organizer of big expeditions and an educator of brilliant galaxy of researchers. Especially great contribution of Semenov-Tyan-Shansky is to the organization of Central Asia research: Przewalski, Potanin, Pevtsov, Roborovskiy, Kozlov, Bogdanovich, Grum Grzhimailo, Obruchev – that is not the complete list of the explorers who owe with their success not only to themselves, but the expiring role and persistence of Semenov-Tyan-Shansky, the diversity and complexity of the programs that he developed for these expeditions. Semenov vigorously promoted the plans of Miklukho-Maclay and organized the Kamchatka expedition of the Russian Geographical Society with Shokalsky.
On the initiative and the insistence of Semenov, according his plans and programs, in 1897 there was held the first general census of the population of Russia, which found out to be singular before the revolution of 1917.
As the result of activity of Semenov-Tyan-Shansky the Russian Geographical Society gained credibility amongst the analogous organizations all over the world. «The name of Semenov-Tyan-Shansky and the name of the Geographical Society are inseparable for us, old employees of the Society», the famous geographer and cartographer Yury Shokalsky wrote in the festschrift about Semenov-Tyan-Shansky (the year of 1928). The geographer and zoologist, the president of the Society from 1940 to 1950, Lev Berg emphasizes several times that in spite of a long time, past from the death of Semenov-Tyan-Shansky, «his name is being surrounded within the walls of the Geographical Society with the same piety as in his life, and he is still being called by name and patronymic».
Petr Petrovich was not only an outstanding scientist, but a charming person as well. All his biographers without exception, and the authors of his memories note his sharp wit, selfless devotion to science, compassion, sensitivity, humanity, tireless energy and persistence.
Semenov-Tyan-Shansky died in 1914, having devoted 65 years of his life to the Russian Geographical Society.
The Russian Geographical Society rewards the geographers for the outstanding achievements with the golden and silver medals of P.P.Semenov.
The glacier and the peak of the Central Tyan-Shan, the mountain range to the south of the Qinghai Lake, the peak Peter Petrovich in the Mongolian Altai, Kirgiz Alatau peaks in the Caucasus, Alaska, Svalbard have the name of Semenov-Tyan-Shansky on the maps.
About one hundred new kinds of plants and animals were called in the honor of Semenov-Tyan-Shansky.
The Academy of sciences and the Academy of arts, and almost all the universities of Russia, many Russian and foreign scientific societies elected Semenov-Tyan-Shansky as a honorary member of their organizations.