Irkutsk city (1990 est. pop. 634,000), capital of Irkutsk region, South Siberian Russia, at the confluence of the Angara and Irkut rivers. It is an industrial center, a port, the site of a hydroelectric dam, and a major stop on the Trans-Siberian RR.
Manufactures include aircraft, automobiles, machine tools, textiles, chemicals, food products, and metals. Founded as a Cossack fortress in 1654, Irkutsk became the capital of Eastern Siberia in 1822. It has been a place of exile since the 18th cent. Many of the Decembrists settled in Irkutsk after their imprisonment, and a few of their houses are now open as tourist sites. In the city are a university (founded 1918) and several agricultural, medical, and technical schools. The Irkutsk dam has raised the level of nearby Lake Baikal by 20 ft (6 m).
Pioneers, Cossacks, missionaries, deportees, rich merchants who could compete with the spiritual flower of Russia, the nobility - each of these added to the glory and the honor of their city - Irkutsk. Talented workers who gave such a distinctive and unique face to the capital of East Siberia have tirelessly worked for their descendants.
The mellow chime of hundreds of bells met Irkutsk's guests on holydays at the beginning of the twentieth century. There were about forty Orthodox churches in Irkutsk in those days, not all of which have survived to the present. Nowadays for your first encounter with the city, a native would likely take you to the first church, that from which the city's genealogy is counted--Spask Church, slim and graceful. This Church has been called "The swan song of ancient Russian architecture" by specialists.
For three and a half centuries Irkutsk has lived a long-suffering life, undergoing many severe trials. The worst of these trials may have been in the so-called "Black Year" of 1879, which was marked by a devastating fire. Three days and nights the city was a blazing inferno, and ten long years were needed to rebuild it! People from all over Siberia and Russia raised it anew from the ashes, and after ten years A.P.Chehov could say: "The city of Irkutsk is dandy. It is quite a European city...."
Irkutsk merchants, who always were great patriots and philanthropists, were among those who worked the hardest in rebuilding the city and making it prosperous. They built hospitals, orphanages, colleges, libraries and churches. People said that if they had wanted to, they could have built a glittering road of silver roubles that stretched all the way to Moscow.
The great wealth amassed by the local merchants contributed greatly to the unique character of Irkutsk architecture, because when it came time for them to build their homes, they called on the best architects in Russia. And it sometimes happened that a talented architect left the first memories of himself in far Siberia and only later gained fame in Moscow and St.Petersburg.
The whimsical brick house of the millionaire brothers Vtorov, who had 1500 employees and owned famous shops in many cities of Western Europe, China, and Mongolia, was designed in Neorussian style. You can see it today at the former Ivanovsaya Square. Another millionaire, Trapeznikov, ordered his private residence to be built after the pattern of the famous Louvre in Paris. And the great architect Qwarengi considered it an honor to fulfill the order of the powerful merchant Sibyryakov. Built from his design, the White House was called by contemporaries "the Oriental Palace" becouse of its blinding richness.
Despite the fact that Irkutsk is well over three hundred years old, the average age of today's population is only 31.6 years. It is a city of youth and students. There are 36 institutes and colleges and 9 vocational schools. Every day 166,646 pupils attend school in the city. In 1949 the East-Siberian branch of the Russian Academy of Science founded 9 research institutions and a regional Economy Department.
Irkutsk is also a theatrical city. In the evenings bright lights are switched on at the entrances of five theatres. There are 15 cinemas and 34 libraries that house a total of 2.5 million books.
If you want to come and visit us in Irkutsk, keep in mind that the coldest month is January(-20.9 C) and the hottest month is July (+20.6 C). However, for our guests the Russian-style cordiality of our ancient city always radiates the warmth and the light of its rich spiritual culture.