Trans-Siberian Spotlight: Irkutsk

Trans-Siberian Spotlight: Irkutsk

If you had to be exiled to Siberia, Irkutsk would be a good choice. After all, it was once dubbed the “Paris of Siberia.”

It’s just a way of saying that Irkutsk – historically and today – is a center of creativity and intellectual pursuit, thanks to those earlier exiles who carved a place in this vast landscape and made it more civil and social.

Classical concert in Irkutsk, Russia <br>Photo credit: Helge Pedersen

Classical concert in the Decembrist Museum, Irkutsk, Russia
Photo credit: Helge Pedersen

The Shastin Merchant House is one of many wooden architectural gems in Irkutsk, Russia Photo credit: Leon Hochman

The Shastin Merchant House is one of many wooden gems in Irkutsk 
Photo credit: Leon Hochman

Colorful wooden shutters adorn houses in Irkutsk, Russia <br>Photo credit: Helge Pedersen

Colorful wooden shutters adorn houses in Irkutsk
Photo credit: Helge Pedersen

Carving Out HistoryAnd carve they did, literally: Wooden houses are adorned with intricate, detailed hand-carved decorations. It’s quite a contrast to the cement Soviet-style buildings that stand near them, an architectural history lesson before one’s eyes.

WWII eternal flame in Irkutsk, Russia <br>Photo credit: Helge Pedersen

WWII eternal flame in Irkutsk, Russia
Photo credit: Helge Pedersen

Wartime HistoryWhile set in the backwaters of Siberia along the Trans-Siberian Railway, Irkutsk’s key location along the rail line made it critically important militarily during Russia’s internal clashes. This was the site of fights between the Bolsheviks (Reds) and Whites, civil war conflicts that lingered after the Bolshevik Revolution.


Intellectual IrkutskIrkutsk’s population nears 110,000, making it one of the largest cities in Siberia. It’s a popular stop before or after exploring nearby Lake Baikal. The city is home to several universities, and it is the staging area for scientific explorations of the UNESCO-listed lake.

Cathedral domes of Irkutsk, Russia <br>Photo credit: Helge Pedersen

Cathedral domes of Irkutsk
Photo credit: Helge Pedersen

Bells in Russian Orthodox churches are often called "singing icons" <br>Photo credit: Helge Pedersen

Bells in Russian Orthodox churches are sometimes called “singing icons”
Photo credit: Helge Pedersen

Don’t Miss

  • Visitors to Irkutsk are surrounded by churches and monasteries, including Our Lady of Kazan, the 18th century Transfiguration Church, and Znamensky Monastery.
  • Volkonsky House is a historical museum of the 18th century Decembrist exiles.
  • Wood is abundant, with streets filled with painstakingly carved and decorated houses and buildings.
  • The ice-breaker Angara is the world’s oldest steam ice-breaker.


Siberian Souvenirs
Irkutsk is the place for birch-bark boxes, wood carvings and the purple Baikal gem, charoite. Another favorite souvenir is winter boots. Kamusi are made of animal fur like elk or deer. Russia’s signature felt boots are called valenki, and are evolved from the steppe nomads’ footware – felted sheep’s wool formed into boots that kept the wearer’s feet warm in extreme cold.

Nothing like a genuine Russian fur hat for staying warm in Siberia! <br>Photo credit: MIR Corporation

Nothing like a genuine Russian fur hat for staying warm in Siberia!
Photo credit: MIR Corporation

And if you don’t have one already, it’s time to buy a Russian fur hat!  Some say the best in the world are right here, in this Siberian city of exiles and Siberian high fashion.


Travel To Irkutsk with MIR
Learn more about MIR tours that travel the famed Trans-Siberian railsstopping in Irkutsk, the so-called “Paris of Siberia.”  Some of those tours include:

(Top photo credit: Vladimir Kvashnin)

 

PUBLISHED: January 10, 2014

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