IRKUTSK - THE MIDDLE OF THE EARTH
Irkutsk is the oldest city of Siberia and has unique and various architecture, interesting history, century-old cultural traditions, strong scientific and educational potential.
Since ancient times it was the center of trade routes crossing, the largest transport hub in the east of Russia. Thanks to diligence of active Irkutsk merchants who have laid a caravan road through Mongolian steppes to the rich states of South East Asia, in the end of the XVII century Russian and international trade started to concentrate here.
Nowadays Irkutsk continues to follow these traditions, supporting mutually advantageous trade relations with a number of states. Business partners of Eastern Siberia capital are the Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Croatia, Italy, Germany, France, the Great Britain, Sweden, Finland, Israel, India, Japan, Mongolia, China, Korea, the USA and other countries.
It’s not by chance that for the sixth time the capital of Angara Region is a placer of the Baikal Economic Forum. International contacts, business cooperation with foreign partners, long-term experience of economic and cultural interaction make the city attractive for carrying out of such forums. Affinity of Baikal is one more powerful argument in favor of Irkutsk.
Irkutsk got its name after a stockade town founded by Cossacks in the mouth of the river Irkut. The 6th of July, 1661 is considered to be the birthday of the city (in 2011 there’ll be celebrated the 350th anniversary of Irkutsk). In 1682 the city became the center of an independent province, four years after that it got the city status accompanied by the seal and the coat of arms.
Irkutsk (52’ 17” NL, 104' 16” EL) is located approximately at the same latitude as Orenburg, Saratov, Voronezh, Warsaw and Berlin. It’s located on the bank of Angara River, 68 km away from Baikal (village Listvyanka).
The climate in Irkutsk is acutely continental, changeable and dry. Acute changes of night and day temperatures are typical for it. In the last two years there were observed some climate anomalies (snowfall in the end of May, 2010 and in June, 2009, general decrease of average monthly temperatures in winter of 2009-2010). For a long time short summer, long winter and autumn were an obstacle for the development of all-the-year-round tourism. However, in the last seven years the “season curse” of Pribaikalye was successfully overcome thanks to the festival "Zimniada" which attracts thousands of winter sports fans - ice fishing on Baikal, skiing and mountain-skiing, snowboarding, ice running marathons, etc.
Irkutsk is an administrative center of Irkutsk region. Its population is over 600 thousand people. It’s populated by about a hundred nationalities; the most numerous are Russians, Ukrainians, Tatars, Jews, Byelorussians, Buryats, Armenians and Tadjiks. Irkutsk has four administrative districts - Pravoberezhny, Octyabrsky, Sverdlovsky and Leninsky. Now Irkutsk occupies the area of 28 thousand hectares.
Irkutsk is on the crossing of the transport ways connecting the west and the east of Russia and Russia with China and Mongolia. Via Irkutsk there pass the Trans-Siberian Railway and the federal highway Moscow-Vladivostok. The international airport of Irkutsk is an important point of intermediate flight stops of the airlines connecting the airports of South East Asia and the Far East with the European part of Russia and CIS countries. From Irkutsk there is water transportation along Angara and Baikal.
Irkutsk is one of the largest scientific centers of Siberia and the Far East. Irkutsk branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences turned 60 years old. It includes the Baikal Museum and nine scientific research institutes. In the city there are 23 higher educational establishments and branches of nonresident higher educational establishments and 36 vocational ones. Irkutsk is considered to be the city of students – there are up to 120 thousand students studying in higher educational establishments of the city.
In Irkutsk there are more than 80 municipal, public and private establishments of culture and art (museums, theatres, libraries, creative centers, concert halls and showrooms) and plenty of ancient churches.
Of interest is the recently open Museum of Irkutsk History (16
à, Franc-Kamenetsky Street). There are more than 30 thousand exhibits, including a rich collection of photos illustrating the city history, the radio committee audio archive, a good exposition on the history of Irkutsk temples and many other things. The recently restored building is of historic and architectural value; there interiors of showrooms, capitals, fireplaces, chandeliers and parquet are made in the 19th century style.
In Irkutsk Regional Art Museum (5, Lenin Street) one can see a wonderful collection of ancient Russian and Siberian icons, religious wooden sculptures of the 18th century, canvases of the 17-19th centuries by artists from France, Italy, Germany and England. By the way, in the museum building there used to be the male navigation school – the only one in Siberia, founded in 1805.
“The house of Europe” (21, F. Engels Street) represents wooden Irkutsk. It is an 18th century house-estate of merchant Shastin, a monument of history and architecture.
The historic memorial complex “Decembrists in Siberia” includes estates of Decembrists S.G. Volkonsky (10, Volkonsky per.) and S.P. Trubetskoy. There take place traditional festivals “Decembrist evenings”, cultural and musical salons and literary evenings.
Ice breaker "Angara" museum (micro-district Solnechny) is made of the ferry-ice breaker which was constructed in 1899-1900. It was used for navigation till 1963. It was restored and installed in Irkutsk on the river Angara, near the dam of the hydro power station. “Angara” is the only ice breaker in Russia which survived since the 19th century.
Of interest are the famous cathedrals and churches of Irkutsk.
Church of the Savior is the oldest surviving stone construction of the Eastern Siberia (it was built in 1706). In the end of 1860-ies a bell tower was added to the church, a spike 50 m high. In the beginning of the 19th century facades of the church of the Savior were decorated by frescos. In 2006 the temple was returned to the diocese.
Epiphany Cathedral (was constructed in wood in 1693). It was planned to be extended, but the temple was destroyed by fire in 1716. In 1723 on the same place a stone cathedral was built. It was the third stone building of the city. For decoration of the facade there were used about 300 multi-colored tiles depicting flowers and fantastic creatures from pagan legends. The decor of the cathedral combines ancient Russian motives and baroque elements. Until 1968 there was located a bakery shop and a hostel. In 1994 the cathedral was returned to Irkutsk diocese.
The Church of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross has rare decorations which combined elements of ancient Russian style and eastern ornaments. Its fences and crosses are fine samples of the old forge work produced by Irkutsk masters. Originally the Church of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross was wooden; it was built to mark the 10th anniversary of Poltava battle. The stone church on Krestovaya Mountain was being built from 1747 till 1760.
The Maiden Convent of the Sign is the only convent of Eastern Siberia. It was founded in 1689. In 1757-1762 in the convent there was built the Cathedral of the Sign. The newly found relics of Prelate Innocent, the holy patron of Irkutsk, are kept in the convent. There is a cemetery with the tombs of “Russian Columbus” Gregory Shelihov, of Decembrists and of the wife and children of Decembrist Trubetskoy. In 2004 in front of the convent gates there was installed the first in Russia monument to Alexander Kolchak, an admiral-researcher of Arctic regions and Siberia and the leader of the "white” anti-communist movement.
Author - Ekaterina Vyrupaeva.
Pictures by Andrey Fedorov