Lake Baikal


Irkutsk region is one of the biggest and most interesting regions in Russia. It is a whole world in Eastern Siberia which is not far from the famous Lake Baikal. It stretches for 1300 km west-eastwards and for 1500 km south-northwards. 

In the South there are the Sayan Mountains that are similar to the Alps (3000 meters high). There is the picturesque mountain range of Khamar-Daban. In the North the gorgeous taiga occupies three fourth of the territory. The half of the territory is occupied by boundless and spacious steppes. 

In spite of its remoteness and being untouched and virgin the region has perfect connections with both Europe and Asia. From the west to the east the Transsiberian Railway, connecting Moscow and the Pacific Ocean runs it across. Irkutsk International airport connects the region with Europe and Asian countries, such as China, Japan, Korea, Thailand and others. 

Besides the Russians the Irkutsk region is populated by old peoples, such as the Buryats, the Evenks, the Yakuts. 

The capital of the region is Irkutsk. The foundation of it dates back to more than three hundred years. In 17th century a Cossack detachment headed by Yakov Pokhabov went up the Angara, a rapid, and turbulent river, and chose a site for a settlement whose first dwelling appeared on the spot where the Irkut river falls into the Angara after roaring through the hills. It was after this river that the settlement which arose on the right bank of the Angara was called Irkutsk. 

In summer of 1661 Yakov Pokhabov reported that wooden towers and a barn for storing grain had already been erected and that settlement's site was very satisfactory as there was land available both for ploughing and hunting, haymaking and grazing. It was at this time when the Russians began developing the vast expanses of Siberia. People came here in search of the legendary treasures, forging their way through wild forests, down fast-flowing rivers, defending themselves against wolf packs, and engaging in peaceful talks and sometimes battles with the local nomadic peoples.

Gradually the settlement was surrounded by fields of barley and rye, and valuable furs were being transported to Moscow. And rumors spread among the people of Russia and their foreign guests that packs of sables roamed the streets of Irkutsk. 

Irkutsk was fortunate enough to stand at the crossroads of the trade routes between the East and West. Cartloads of wax, iron and goods manufactured in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and even Holland, England and Spain were brought to Siberia along the roads running through the town. In turn, caravans of fur-skins, mica, Chinese tea and silk left Siberia for the European part of Russia and further still to Europe. In the 1706 construction began on the Moscow road which was to cover the thousands of kilometers between Moscow and Lake Baikal. Once for all it strengthened Irkutsk's repute as a major trading center and as "storehouse" of Russia in the east. 

The town grew and around it arose villages and hamlets inhabited by Cossacks who had retired from military life, enterprising merchants and runaway serfs. Here was to be found great freedom, vast expanses of land and plenty of opportunities for making one's fortune. Glass-making and silk-weaving factories, mills, smithies, breweries, tanneries and soap factories appeared in the town, and handicrafts and the applied arts flourished. 

Irkutsk's growing wealth and its role in the east of the country also led to important administrative changes. On October 19, 1764, a decree was issued according to which Siberia was to be divided into the Tobolsk and Irkutsk provinces. Thereafter the town became the capital of Eastern Siberia. 

Irkutsk's role in Russia's state policies also increased. Emissaries were sent from Irkutsk to establish precise borders with China and set up trade relations with it. Lieutenant Alexey Chirikov received funds and gathered a crew for the first Kamchatka expedition of Vitus Bering (1725-30). His name and that of the expedition's leader were destined to stay on the world's map forever. Here, too, supplies and materials were assembled for Bering's second expedition to Kamchatka (1733-43) which set out to discover the shores of America. As a result of the development of new areas in the north-east, the Arctic Ocean and the lands around Kamchatka, a navigational school was opened for future seamen. 

The town also played a great role in the development of culture in the eastern regions of Russia. In 1724, by the order of Peter the Great, a school of Mongolian and Chinese languages were set up in the Irkutsk monastery, the first educational establishment in Russia to study Oriental languages. 

However, by the end of the 18th century, Siberia was renowned not only for its furs, gold and erudition but also for being a place of penal servitude and exile where some of the best people of Russia were sent. You probably heard of the Decembrists - the Russian noblemen-revolutionaries who instigated an uprising against autocracy and serfdom in St. Petersburg in December 1825 (their names is derived from the month of the uprising). The government dealt cruelly with them. Some of them were hanged and the rest were imprisoned and exiled to Siberia. 

The Decembrists spent thirty-odd years in Siberia, first doing penal servitude in prison and then in exile in remote areas of the severe region. Some of the Decembrists' families were given permission to move to the town towards the end of their term of exile. Their houses are still there. They have been turned into museums

The Decembrists brought enlightenment to the remotest parts of Siberia, opening schools for peasants' children which girls as well as boys could attend. The economy, science, agriculture, culture and many other sides of life in the far-off Russian province felt their beneficial influence. The discovery of gold mines and the success in industry and trade brought a great many intelligent, business-minded people to Siberia.

Meanwhile the town continued to flourish and historians refer to the 1870s and 1880s as the golden age of the Siberian merchantry. The gold mines, the tremendous trade, the salt, fur-skins, ore and mica mines, the sale of timber and saw-timber, fur-skins, Chinese silk and tea formed the base of Irkutsk life at that time. 

At the end of the 19th century (1891 - 1904) the Trans-Siberian Railway was built. The blueprints of the Trans-Siberian Railway won a gold medal at the World Fair in Chicago in 1893. The first train arrived in Irkutsk on August 16, 1898.

Thousands of people and hundreds of factories were evacuated to Siberia during the Great Patriotic War of 1941-45. Every day freightcars of foodstuffs, ammunition, uniforms and armaments were sent to the front from Irkutsk. Thousands people of Irkutsk region fought against German fascists during the war, all Siberia's able-bodied men went off to defend their land and the majority of them laid down their lives for their country. 

Just as England created London and France, Paris, so Siberia created Irkutsk. It is proud of its creation and not to see Irkutsk means not to see Siberia.

Irkutsk writer Valentin Rasputin wrote about Irkutsk: "Weathered by history and life Irkutsk stands now, calm and wise, knowing its own value, moderately famous for its glory, past and present, moderately modest, cultured since olden times and traditionally hospitable; so stands Irkutsk, blessed with the long exacting memory of its wood and stone, observing with love and not a little wonder the deeds of its present-day citizens giving them paternal protection from the heat and cold; giving them life, shelter, work, a homeland and eternity". 

From the very beginning Baikal Lake had great influence on the fate and character of Irkutsk... Irkutsk citizens drink water from the Angara river coming from Baikal, they breath its winds, come to it to get health and inspiration, admire its beauty and might, never stop to worship it, they find work on its shores and waters, tell folk legends and true stories about it. But you'll read the story about Baikal Lake if you click next page.


You are welcome to Irkutsk!

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