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Irkutsk

Irkutsk is a major city in Eastern Siberia, with a population of over 600.000 people. The city nestles at the foot of the Sayan Mountain Range, at the confluence of the Angara and Irkut Rivers. The area is rich in gold-bearing ore and other metals, which have featured strongly in the city's economic development. Yet Irkutsk has a unique claim to world fame – Lake Baikal, the world's largest lake.

Fascinating facts

  • The plot of Jules Verne's novel Michel Strogoff takes place in the city of Irkutsk.
  • Irkutsk has a long history as the place of Siberian exile for non-conformists such as 'The Decembrists' – who launched a failed coup attempt in Russia in 1825.
  • The world-famous ballet artist Rudolf Nureyev was born aboard a Trans-Siberian train as it passed through Irkutsk Region.
  • Two unique species live at Lake Baikal - the Baikal omul fish, a kind of trout - and the Baikal freshwater seal, known as nerpa. Baikal is the only place on earth where they are found!
  • Irkutsk is unofficially counted as the geographic centre of Russia.
  • The Angara River – on which Irkutsk is located – is so mighty and powerful that it's often referred to as the 'Siberian Amazon.'

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City History

The city was founded in 1661 by Cossack settlers – in an area covered by taiga hills. The wealth of the city grew from the trade route to China, whose merchants based themselves in Irkutsk. Trade caravans would ferry Russian gold and furs to the East, and return laden with oriental silks, spices, sugar and tea.

During the Russian Empire, the city was a frequent place of internal exile.

During the Soviet era, a number of engineering and metallurgical plants were built in Irkutsk. With the rich natural resources of the area, Irkutsk became an important heavy industry hub.

Today, Irkutsk sits at the junction of a number of major transport networks – including the Siberian and Baikal federal highways, and the Trans-Siberian Railway. These have made Irkutsk the transport hub for the whole of the Russian east. It's also a key destination for tourists on the Trans-Siberian Railway, who come to visit Lake Baikal.

This city's historic centre is rather unusual, still keeping a number of traditional wooden buildings with their open-cut fretwork decoration – a style known as 'Siberian Barqoue'. However, there are also modern city neighbourhoods with impressive contemporary architecture, museums, and other similar sights.

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