Irkutsk (Russian: Иркутск; IPA: [ɪrˈkutsk]) is a city and the administrative center of Irkutsk Oblast, Russia, one of the largest cities in Siberia. Population: 587,225 (2010 Census preliminary results); 593,604 (2002 Census); 622,301 (1989 Census)..
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In 1652, Ivan Pokhabov built a zimovye (winter quarters) near the site of Irkutsk for gold trading and for the collection of fur taxes from the Buryats. In 1661, Yakov Pokhabov built an ostrog nearby. The ostrog gained official town rights from the government in 1686. The first road connection between Moscow and Irkutsk, the Siberian Road, was built in 1760, and benefited the town economy. Many new products, often imported from China via Kyakhta, became widely available in Irkutsk for the first time, including gold, diamonds, fur, wood, silk and tea. In 1821, as part of the Speransky reforms, Siberia was administratively divided at the Yenisei River and Irkutsk became the seat of the Governor-General of East Siberia.
In the early 19th century, many Russian artists, officers and nobles were sent into exile in Siberia for their part in the Decembrist revolt against Tsar Nicholas I. Irkutsk became the major center of intellectual and social life for these exiles, and much of the city’s cultural heritage comes from them; many of their wooden houses, adorned with ornate, hand-carved decorations, survive today, in stark contrast with the standard Soviet apartment blocks that surround them.
By the end of the 19th century, there was one exiled man for every two locals. People of varying backgrounds, from members of the Decembrist uprising to Bolsheviks, have been in Irkutsk for many years and have greatly influenced the culture and development of the city. As a result, Irkutsk eventually became a prosperous cultural and educational center in Eastern Siberia.
In 1879, on July 4 and 6, the palace of the (then) Governor General, the principal administrative and municipal offices and many of the other public buildings were destroyed by fire, and the government archives, the library and the museum of the Siberian section of the Russian Geographical Society were completely ruined. Three-quarters of the city were destroyed, including approximately 4,000 houses. However, the city quickly rebounded, with electricity arriving in 1896, the first theater being built in 1897 and a major train station opened in 1898. The first train arrived in Irkutsk on August 16 of that year. By 1900, the city had earned the nickname of «The Paris of Siberia.»
During the Russian Civil War, which broke out after the October Revolution, Irkutsk became the site of many furious, bloody clashes between the «Whites» and the «Reds». In 1920, Aleksandr Kolchak, the once-feared commander of the largest contingent of anti-Bolshevik forces, was executed in Irkutsk, which effectively destroyed the anti-Bolshevik resistance.
Irkutsk was the administrative center of the short-lived East Siberian Oblast, which existed from 1936 to 1937. The city subsequently became the administrative center of Irkutsk Oblast after East Siberian Oblast was divided into Chita Oblast and Irkutsk Oblast.
During the Communist years, the industrialization of Irkutsk and Siberia in general was heavily encouraged. The large Irkutsk Reservoir was built on the Angara River between 1950 and 1959 in order to facilitate industrial development.
The Epiphany Cathedral (left), the governor’s palace, a school of medicine, a museum, a military hospital and the crown factories are among the public institutions and buildings. The Aleksandr Kolchak monument, designed by Vyacheslav Klykov, was unveiled in 2004. On July 27, 2004, the Irkutsk Synagogue (1881) was gutted by a conflagration.