Lake Baikal


Let's begin our excursion with the oldest point of the city, the place where Irkutsk began. It happened here in 1661 that Yakov Pokhabov and his comrades began building a wooden church with offices, dwellings and barns attached. But if you come back from the past you'll find yourselves in the Victory Square and see the memorial erected in honor of the Soviet people's victory in the Second World War of 1941-45. The Eternal Flame for the memorial was taken from the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Moscow Kremlin Wall. And you see nothing has remained of Irkutsk's foundation because the wooden buildings were destroyed by one of the countless fires or fell into disrepair and were demolished in the 19th century. 

The Church of Our Saviour (Spasskaya) is the only one of the stone structure built in 1706 and still standing. A chronicle says: this church was built through the efforts of the Irkutsk governor, Alexey Sidorovich Sinyavin, with the participation of the townspeople. The high altar of the Saviour (Veronica) was consecrated in this church on August 1, 1710. 

Unfortunately the chronicle doesn't give the name of the church's builder but its austere proportions, elaborate decor, ornate windows, the ornamental lines of its cornices and diversity of paintings set against the restrained and modestly decorated exterior testify to the great taste and talent of its builder. Old Russian churches style was used here as the model and you'll feel an affinity with the architecture of Old Rus. Later in 1758 a belfry was added to the church's western face. The restoration of the Church of our Saviour was completed by Irkutsk masters in 1981. 

Next to the church is the Cathedral of the Epiphany (Bogoyavlensky). It was also originally wooden. But it was destroyed by the great fire in 1716. A new church was consecrated in 1723. Its design was based on that of a church built in 1703 in the town of Verkhoturye in the Urals. However, the Irkutsk builders merely made use of the fundamental constructional lines of the Verkhoturye church to create a unique structure of their own.

You can't pass by the Catholic Church near Kirov Square. How, indeed, a Catholic church come to be built in Siberia? As we have already said, under tsarism Siberia became a place of exile for political prisoners, and among those exiled to the Irkutsk province were the participants of the Polish national liberation movement against tsarism and, in particular, of the uprising of 1863. Now the church is used as a Concert Hall or Organ Hall. Its organ was made in Germany. So you are welcome to listen to this organ in the evenings.

Let's have a look at one more church. That is slightly away but we will not have a full picture of the town's old stone buildings without it. It's the Church of the Exaltation of the Cross (Krestovozdvizhenskaya). This church is a quite unique, outstanding example of all the church architecture of 18th century Siberia. This stone marvel was built in 1758. Particularly striking is its austere and clear silhouette, reminiscent of old striking is its austere and clear silhouette, reminiscent of old wooden churches, and unique interior design: just as in Oriental churches, an ornamental pattern covers all its walls. 

Near the Eternal Flame in Victory Square there is a nice footbridge over the street leading towards the Angara river. You get a good view of a gleaming white church from here that is surrounded by a high wall on the riverbank. This is the former Znamensky (Sign) Convent. It was founded in 1683. The stone church was built later in 1762. The lovers of architecture undoubtedly will pay attention to its decorative belfry, chetverik and exquisite interior. Its wooden iconostasis and old-framed icons created by Irkutsk woodcarvers and icon painters are still intact. You can see here an old Gospel that was sent to the people of Irkutsk as a gift by Peter the Great in 1708.

The graves of people whose names are inscribed in the history of the town, region and, indeed, of the whole country are here within the walls of the convent. Gregori Shelikhov (1749-95), a merchant, traveler and seafarer. Several Decembrists who lived in villages near Irkutsk after being freed from penal servitude. They are Piotr Mukhanov, Nikolai Panov, Vladimir Bechasnov, Yekaterina Trubetskaya (1800-54), courageous woman, Countess and a wife of Sergey Trubetskoy, one of the founders and leaders of the Northen Secret Society.

The residence of the bishop of Irkutsk and Angarsk is here now.

 Let's go towards quay of Angara River or Gagarin Boulevard along Karl Marks Street, the main street of the city. It was formerly called Bolshaya (Grand) Street. It was best-designed, widest and most imposing street of Irkutsk. It starts by Bely Dom (White House) and the Museum of Regional Studies on the Angara and passes right through the city, almost joining the two ends of the Angara arc with an asphalt chord. 

Mansions, shops, banks, theaters and hotels appeared here. The oldest cinema of the city, the Cinema Don Otello, is here too. It belonged to Italian engineer who worked on the Circum Baikal Line's construction. 

Have you heard about Admiral Kolchac? If you have a look at the building on the left, just on the cross of Karl Marx and Lenin Streets you'll see the former headquarter of counter revolutionary army headed by Admiral Kolchac during the Civil War. If you are interested in more places connected with this man you are welcome to see the church of St. Kharlampius (Archangel church) where he got married, two-storied wooden building in Marata Street where he lived and the place where he was shot down at Ushakovka River in 1920. 

Close to the Angara River on the left side you'll see the Okhlopkov Irkutsk Drama Theater. It was built in 1894-97 after the design of the famous architect Victor Shreter who built the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg and theaters in Kiev, Nizhny Novgorod, Tbilisi, the Odessa Railway Station and many other buildings. 

Incidentally, the townspeople of Irkutsk became acquainted with theatrical art in the 18th century. In 1787 one of the first provincial theaters of Russia was created in the town through the endeavours of the wife of one of the town's highranking officials. The theater became very popular among the local people. The Decembrists greatly influenced the development of the theatrical art in Eastern Siberia and Irkutsk. They used to organize amateur productions and theatrical evenings in their homes. 

 So we are in the quay of the Angara River. It's a restive river. It freezes late and in its chilled water pieces of ice form on its stony bed, and then gradually break loose, rise to the surface and float towards the banks gathering together in narrow spots and forming natural dams. These small pieces of ice are popularly known as "sludge". The Angara no longer freezes in the area where it passes through the city because after flowing through the turbines of the Irkutsk Hydroelectric Sation. Its water remains above zero and cools only much lower down from the city; and the dam holds back the sludge flowing from the Lake Baikal. Angara becomes free of ice in the first half of May. 

The legend says, old Baikal was brought gifts of water by his three hundred and thirty-six sons - large, small and tiny mountain rivers (554 rivers according to Baikal Limnologists' calculations). And Angara, the only daughter of the Lake Baikal, carried out Baikal's precious water which had settled in Siberian Lake for three or four centuries to counterbalance her brothers. It's over 1770 km long and from 1 to 5 km wide. Its banks are steep and rocky in some parts and gently sloping in others, dipping into valleys especially where the dams of the hydroelectric stations form the Irkutsk, Bratsk and Ust-Ilimsk Reservoirs. Its main tributaries are the Ilim, Chadobets and Irkineyeva Rivers along its right bank and the Irkut, Kitoy, Belaya, Oka, Iya and Taseyeva Rivers along its left bank. 

Angara abounds in fish such as sterlet, sturgeon, grayling, white salmon, dace and burbot, perch and omul, a wonderfully tasty Siberian fish.

You can take a boat at the pier to go along the Angara. The trip up and down the river takes less than an hour. You'll get a wide panorama of the city during the trip: a long row of carved wooden houses of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, old stone mansions, concrete and glass modern institute buildings. 

You'll see a Monument to the Builders of the Trans-Siberian Railway. It was erected to commemorate the construction of Irkutsk Railway Station. The funds for the monument were raised all over Siberia. You could hardly find a single citizen, regardless of class or standing who didn't contribute something towards it. 

The monument is consisted from the figure of Alexander III standing on the top of a pedestal. The pedestal of red Finnish granite is decorated with the sculptured portraits of three people who were directly involved in the conquest of Siberia: Ermak Timopheyevich (unknown date of birth - 1585), Cossack chieftain. He paved with his campaigns of 1581-85 the way for the annexation of Siberia to Russia and its conquest. He is the subject of many popular songs and legends, 16th-century chronicles, novels, novellas and poems immortalizing his courage and talent as a military leader. Mikhail Speransky (1772-1839), Russian statesman, count, author of many bills and reforms in the early 19th century. In 1819 he was appointed Governor-General of Siberia where he initiated reforms in the region's management. On his return to St. Petersburg (1821) he became a founder of the Siberian committee for the affairs of Russia beyond the Urals. Nikolai Muraviov-Amursky (1809-81), Count, Russian statesman, diplomat and general. As Governor of the Yenisei province, Governor-General of Eastern Siberia between 1847 and 1861, he did much to help the development and study of the region, encouraged the local intelligentsia and political exiles to do likewise, and treated the Decembrists liberally. He facilitated the development of the region, the expansion of trade and supported geographical and exploratory expeditions, and as an emissary of Russia signed the Aigun Treaty with China in 1858. He was bestowed the title of count and an epithet Amursky was added to his surname for developing the Amur Region. 

If you have time you can walk along Gagarin Boulvard and have a look at the first building of the Irkutsk State University. Originally it was a boarding school for young ladies of noble birth (a private educational establishment in pre-revolutionary Russia). Unlike similar educational establishments in Europe and European part of Russia, this boarding school was open not only to noblemen's daughters but also to those of middle-ranking officials, Buryat princes and clergymen. 

If you are tired of history you could go into the shops and buy some souvenirs. If you go down Uritsky Street, a small pedestrian street off Karl Marx Street you will come to a modern building with a good choice of gifts and souvenirs. 

We have to tell you good-bye and see you later at the Lake Baikal or at the Museums of the city!


You are welcome to Irkutsk!

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