Our Lady of Kazan Church, Copyright Marcin Konsek

Irkutsk, nicknamed The Paris of Siberia, is one of Siberia’s largest cities, and Russia’s 24th-largest city as of 2010. It sits on the Angara River (a tributary of the Yenisey), which is joined by the city’s namesake river, Irkut, directly opposite.

Irkutsk is separated into a left and right bank, due to all the rivers and tributaries running through it. The main section is separated from several landmarks and the suburbs by the Ushakova (or Ida) River.

In addition to the rivers, Irkutsk is also nestled among rolling hills.

Decadence Art Theatre (now Art Cinema), Copyright Marcin Konsek

Church of the Epiphany, Copyright Marcin Konsek

In 1652, Ivan Pokhabov built a zimovyo (winter quarters) close to modern-day Irkutsk, for gold trading and collecting fur taxes from the Mongolic Buryat people (Siberia’s largest indigenous group). In 1661, Yakov Pokhabov built an ostrog (small fort) nearby.

Irkutsk received official town rights in 1686.

Irkutsk Synagogue, cropped from image copyright Suzko

In 1760, the Siberian Road became the city’s first connection to Moskva, and proved a boon to the local economy. Not only were they able to trade with Moskva, but they also began receiving goods from China, such as silk, diamonds, gold, wood, tea, and fur.

In 1821, Irkutsk became East Siberia’s Governor-General’s seat.

Dutch House, Copyright Tatiana Kuzniecowa Wiensko

Kazinskiy Cathedral, now demolished

Following the 1825 Decembrist revolt supporting Grand Duke Konstantin and opposing Grand Duke (later Tsar) Nikolay’s ascension to the throne, many officers, nobles, and artists were exiled to Siberia. Irkutsk became their grand cultural, intellectual, and social center, and took on their architectural stamp with beautiful, ornate wooden houses replete with hand-carved decorations.

By the end of the 19th century, there was one exile for every two locals.

Irkutsk Depot, Copyright Dmitry Afonin

Church of the Exaltation of the Cross, Copyright Rost.galis

A horrific fire destroyed 4,000 houses, many important buildings, government archives, and the library and museum of the Russian Geographical Society’s Siberia division on 4 and 6 July 1879. Three-quarters of Irkutsk went up in flames.

The city soon bounced back, and was electrified in 1896. Their first theatre followed in 1897, and an important depot arrived in 1898. By 1900, it had more than earned the nickname The Paris of Siberia.

Europe House, Copyright PIERRE ANDRE LECLERCQ

Our Lady of Kazan Church, Copyright Rost.galis

Many brutal, bloody battles were fought in Irkutsk during the Russian Civil War. Sadly, the White resistance essentially came to an end after the 1920 execution of Admiral Aleksandr Vasiliyevich Kolchak.

Monument to Admiral Kolchak, Copyright Kolchak1923

Irkutsk is home to many museums, schools, cultural heritage sites, theatres, TV stations, scientific research institutes, sports facilities, and a botanical garden. Twinned cities include Eugene, Oregon; Grenoble and Dijon, France; Pforzheim, Germany; Ulan Bator, Mongolia; and Kanazawa, Japan.

Many famous athletes, writers, cosmonauts, actors, musicians, military people, film directors, industrialists, naturalists, and scientists have hailed from Irkutsk. Writer Valentin Grigoriyevich Rasputin (no relation to the mad monk) set many of his stories in the area.

Angara River

Moskva Arch, Copyright Putnik.m54

My characters the Savvins are evacuated to Irkutsk in September 1941, to escape the invading Germans. Inga, going into her last year of high school, says her entire school is being evacuated, but that she’d never go anywhere without the rest of her family after losing her mother in 1937.

Mr. Savvin won’t hear of his only blood grandchild living alone, and decides the entire family will go. Besides Inga’s grandparents are her young aunt Nelya (a late-life surprise) and her cousin Karla, the adoptive daughter of her executed uncle Leonid.

In Irkutsk, Karla continues her Stalin-themed embroidery business, and Nelya attends Irkutsk University. After Inga graduates high school, her grandfather takes advantage of the relatively calmer political climate and far distance from Moskva to send her to safety in Shanghai.

Vtorov House, Copyright Kate Mikheeva

2 thoughts on “Irkutsk, Russia

  1. It looks such a beautiful place! Loved reading about its history.
    Such a tragedy that fire. I’m sure we lost so many important building and their history. But one never know whether to mourn for what it’s lost or to rejoice for what was created then.


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