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       MOSCOW

HISTORY  -  DECEMBRISTS  -  IRKUTSK TODAY  -  THE TRANS-SIBERIAN RAILROAD  -  FAMOUS PERSONS  -  ARCHITECTURE, WOODEN HOUSES  -  LAKE BAIKAL

 

History
Wide and free, the vast landmass of Siberia lies behind the Ural mountains. For many centuries, not only for foreign travelers but also for Russians themselves, Siberia seemed to be "unknown territory", unsafe and barbaric.
Irkutsk was founded as a military outpost in 1652. In 1686 there was a church and a small town established on the banks of the Angara. Tea caravans from China passed through Irkutsk, fur traders sold their pelts here and the town developed. Pioneers, Cossacks, missionaries, deportees, rich - each of these added to the glory of this city - Irkutsk.
By the beginning of the 19th-century Irkutsk was Siberia’s administrative capital. The Governor, who lived in the elegant white building that still stands by the river (opposite the statue of Alexander III), presided over an area 20 times the size of France.

     Alexander III
The White House (see architecture below)

The mellow chime of hundreds of bells met Irkutsk's guests, at the beginning of the twentieth century. There were about forty Orthodox churches in Irkutsk in those days, not all of which have survived to the present.

      
For three and a half centuries Irkutsk has lived a long-suffering life, undergoing many severe trials. The worst of these trials may have been in the so-called "Black Year" of 1879, which was marked by a devastating fire. Three days and nights the city was a blazing inferno, the fire destroyed 75 % of the houses, and ten long years were needed to rebuild it! People from all over Siberia and Russia raised it anew from the ashes, and after ten years A.P.Chehov could say: "The city of Irkutsk is dandy. It is quite a European city...."
With the discovery of gold in the area in the early 19th century, the cosmopolitan population increased, and included fur traders, tea merchants, gold prospectors, exiles and ex-convicts. Irkutsk merchants were among those who worked the hardest in rebuilding the city and making it prosperous. They built hospitals, orphanages, colleges, libraries and churches.
On 16 August 1898 Irkutsk was linked by rail to Europe with the arrival of the first Trans-Siberian train.

            

         

 

Decembrists in Irkutsk
On December 14, 1825, Lieutenant Panov and other leaders of the uprising (mostly high-ranking officers) marched armed troops to Senate Square in St.Petersburg to force the Senate to sign a manifesto deposing the autocracy, abolishing serfdom, instituting democratic reforms, etc. However, the uprising was suppressed because of indecision and wavering on the part of its leaders. Five were executed. Others punished in various ways: reduced to the ranks and sent to the Caucasus, a scene of fierce fighting at the time, or deprived of all rights and estates and sent into exile for life in Siberia. Among the places these exiles were sent was the Irkutsk Province.
After the Amnesty of 1856, declared at the time of Alexander's ascension to the throne, only forty-two of the exiles returned home. Those who did were still banned from living in the two capital cities, St. Petersburg and Moscow.
The first Decembrists came to Irkutsk in the summer of 1826. From Irkutsk they were sent on to other places according to the terms of their sentences: those sentenced to banishment went to remote, thinly-populated areas of Eastern Siberia; those sentenced to hard labour, to mines, factories, prisons and forts.
The houses in which some of them lived are now museums.
A particularly important role in the life of Irkutsk society was played by S. G. Volkonsky (1788-1865), ex-major-general, veteran of the 1812 Patriotic War, and one of the leaders of Decembrist's Southern Society. He was deported to a village near Irkutsk, where he tilled the fields with the peasants, teaching them advanced farming methods. His house in Irkutsk (which he designed himself), became a major centre of cultural life. Amateur theatricals and concerts were given here, and debates were conducted.
Piotr Mukhanov (1799-1854) was the staff-captain of the lzmailovsky Life-Guards Regiment. He was a friend of the poet Alexander Pushkin, and was himself a writer, author of novellas and vaudevilles and translator of French comedies staged in Russia. Mukhanov studied at Moscow University and then at the Column Leaders' School, which trained officers for the General Staff. After the failure of the insurrection of December 14, 1825, he was sentenced to twelve years of penal servitude, which was reduced to eight years followed by exile for life in Siberia.
The wives and fiancées of some Decembrists came to Siberia to share the lot of their men, overcoming the opposition of the authorities and of their relatives, losing their rights and possessions, and travelling thousands of kilometers by sledge and carriage. They were not allowed to take their children with them, and were not always allowed to return to the European part of Russia even after their husbands' death.


station of Irkutsk

 

Irkutsk today
 Nowadays the city of Irkutsk is one of greatest economic and cultural centers in the eastern part of the country. Many years ago the modern stately city expanded and grew beyond its former outskirts. The presence of an historic Polish Roman-Catholic church, a Tatar mosque, and a Jewish synagogue show that from the very beginning the city was multicultural and multinational.
Formerly cut off from central Russia by the rocky Urals, this distant Siberian city is now connected by living threads with all the world. The 100th anniversary of the East-Siberian steamship-line was celebrated in 1985. There are direct routes connecting the city with Mongolia, Japan and China, as well as many routes within the country.
Despite the fact that Irkutsk is well over three hundred years old, the average age of today's population is only 31.6 years. It is a city of youth and students. There are 36 institutes and colleges and 9 vocational schools. In 1949 the East-Siberian branch of the Russian Academy of Science founded 9 research institutions and a regional Economy Department.
Irkutsk is also a cultural city; there are five theatres and several cinemas and libraries as well.


theatre

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The Trans-Siberian railroad
Trans-Siberian railway construction was held in difficult climate conditions. Most of the road was build through low populated or not populated areas with tense forests. The road goes across many strong Siberian rivers, meets many lakes, swampy and permafrost areas on its way (from Kuenga to Bochkarevo, now Belogorsk). The most difficult for builders was the section around the Baikal (Baikal station - Mysovaya station). Here they had to blast rocks, to make tunnels, to build additional structures on the rivers that go into Baikal.


Class Cy, a highly successful passenger engine. 'S' stands for Sormovo, where these steam locos were built from 1911.  Cy means that it is a strengthened C, developed from the C class and in production from 1926 to 1951.

Trans-Siberian railway building required a lot of money. According to the Railway Construction Committee calculations estimated costs of road building were 350 millions of gold rubles. Therefore, to lower the costs and to build the road faster Committee established special simplified technical conditions base for the Ussuriysk and Western Siberia sections of the road. For example, according to the Committee's recommendation the width of the earth bed in such places as mounds and excavations was decreased, ballast layer was made thinner, lighter rails were used, the number of sleepers for 1 km was decreased, etc. Major construction works were planned only for the big bridges. Smaller bridges were built of wood. 50-verst distance between stations was allowed.
The sharpest problem was the problem of attracting labor for the building of Trans-Siberian railway. The need for qualified workers was satisfied by hiring workers in the center and by transporting them to Siberia. Most of the builders were convicts and soldiers. Peasants from Siberia, people from Siberian towns and also peasants and low middle class people from European part of Russia were involved in construction of Trans-Siberian railway as well. At the beginning of construction in 1891 the  total number of workers on Trans-Siberian railway was 9600. In 1895 - 1896 it went up to 84000 - 89000 workers. On the final stage of construction in 1904, there were only 5300 workers. The use of Siberian exile for punishment of criminals and political offenders began almost immediately after the conquest, but accelerated with the rise of the Russian revolutionary movement in the 19th century.
The Trans-Siberian Railway greatly influenced the composition and size of the population of Siberia.


More pictures of the transsib, click HERE

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Famous people
Nikolai Mikhailovich Przhevalsky (1839-88), Russian geographer, traveler and researcher of Central Asia, Honorary Member of St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences. Between 1867 and 1869 he headed an expedition to the Ussuri area, and in 1870-73, to Mongolia, China and Tibet. He determined the direction of the mountain ridges of Central Asia and discovered, described and made vast collections of previously unknown species of animals. His books include A Journey in the Ussuri Area in 1867-69 (1870), and From Kuldzha to Tian Shan and Beyond and to Lobnor (1878). His name was given to a town in Kirghizia, a ridge in the mountain system of Kunlun, a glacier in Altal and many other geographical landmarks and species of animals and plants discovered by him. In 1891 the Russian Geographical Society established a silver medal and a prize in his honour, and in 1946 the Przhevalsky Gold Medal was instituted.


Przhevalsky horses in Mongolia

Nureyev, Rudolf Hametovich (1938-1993), Russian-born ballet dancer and choreographer, perhaps the greatest virtuoso and most charismatic male dancer of his generation. Born near Irkutsk, he became a soloist with the Kirov Ballet (now the Saint Petersburg Ballet) in 1958. While on tour in 1961, Nureyev defected from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. In 1962 he became associated with Britain's Royal Ballet, where he was often paired with British ballerina Margot Fonteyn. He was artistic director of the Paris Opera Ballet from 1983 to 1989.


Statue of Yuri Gagarin (1934-1968), cosmonaut and first man in space

Mme. Pola (1900-1983), Russian-born Fashion Designer
Born Appolinaria Petrovna Eroffeyevna  near Irkutsk, Pola married Vladimir Jaludsky circa 1918. Vladimir, a Military Officer, was killed in the Russian Revolution shortly thereafter, and Pola left Russia with their two small children. After residing briefly in China, Pola arrived penniless in the United States in 1924. She worked as a seamstress in factories for many years until she began designing for the house of glamorous fashion designer Valentina.  In 1937, Pola opened her own New York Salon of Haute Couture Designs, which catered to the denizens of Hollywood and High Society. Her creations were always Russian-influenced, such as gowns with dolman sleeves, and they set trends across America.
Her most famous design, the 1944 Inaugural Gown for First Lady Bess Truman, wife of U.S. President Harry S. Truman, now stands on display at The Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., USA.

 

Architecture, wooden houses
 

The great wealth contributed greatly to the unique character of Irkutsk architecture, because they asked the best architects in Russia for creating houses. And it sometimes happened that a talented architect left the first memories of himself in far Siberia and only later gained fame in Moscow and St.Petersburg.
The whimsical brick house of the millionaire brothers Vtorov, who had 1500 employees and owned famous shops in many cities of Western Europe, China, and Mongolia, was designed in Neorussian style. Today it still is to be seen at the former Ivanovsaya Square. Another millionaire, Trapeznikov, ordered his private residence to be built after the pattern of the famous Louvre in Paris. And the great architect Qwarengi considered it an honor to fulfill the order of the powerful merchant Sibyryakov. Built from his design, the White House was called by contemporaries "the Oriental Palace" because of its blinding richness.
Sukachyov - the mayor and founder of the Irkutsk art museum - built his private residence, complete with an art gallery, in exotic oriental style on the outskirts of the city. But after the big fire, Bolshaya street, Amurskaya street and Laninskaya street became the architectural showcase of the city, with buildings designed not only by celebrities from the capital but also by talented local architects.
But the capital of East Siberia became not only famous because of its brick buildings. The areas of the city where wooden buildings dominate are equally beautiful, and there you can find a deeper national heritage. The majority of Siberian cities are proud of their wood architecture, but only in Irkutsk you can see the most artistic handcrafted wooden elements.
Irkutsk is famous for its wooden architecture. Almost all of the wooden houses are privately owned.
The newer ones, those of the 19th century have windows that are similar to the windows of a palace in a Russian fairy-tale. The ornaments were not only made for decorative purpose, they were also symbolic. The symbols depicted different hopes, and dreams of the people of that time. For example - people believed that evil spirits could enter the dwelling through doors and windows frames. So the decorations used in those parts of the house were for protection. The sign of the sun could be outlined with jagged star shapes. It is obvious that this symbolizes life, happiness, and the beginning of all good things. And two pigeons with a bunch in their beaks are symbolic of a "Universe tree". People believed that in the heavenly paradise there was a fairy tree covering all of heaven with leaves and fruits of all the trees and plants from all over the world. In this tree these pigeons lived.
Usually, five or six windows face the street. The windows are rather big. Shutters are painted in blue and green. Blue and green are the favorite colors in Siberia. Blue is a symbol of hope and green is for long life and youth. White is symbolic of purification.
In Siberia, wooden houses are built in pine and cedar.

lake Baikal                                                                                                       ^  TOP

MOSCOW

Lake Baikal is the world's deepest lake. It is about 60 km (40 miles) south-east of Irkutsk, and 1637 m (5371 ft) deep.  It contains about 20% of the world's freshwater supplies. It is not only the deepest, but also the oldest lake in the world, formed almost 50 million years ago.
Russian colonists called Baikal the 'Holy Sea' since there were so many myths and legends about this place.

Emvironmental threats
The lake's remoteness kept it safe from environmental damage until the building of the Trans-Siberian railway.
Baikal became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996 and is ringed by nature reserves. Today there are numerous gas and oil pipelines, that pass near the shore on their way to China and the Sea of Japan. A pipeline rupture could cause great damage to the lake.

    
Open Air Museum                                                                                                              Red or beautiful corner of a house.

Getting to the lake.
Visitors can go from Irkutsk to the lake by boat or by bus. It is nice to pay a visit to one of the museums, before getting on board. There is a nice Open Air Museum with a collection of wooden houses, and a Baikal Museum. At the Baikal Museum you can get an impression of the unique marine life and animals in the Baikal area. It is rather interesting, because about 80% of the species in Lake Baikal cannot be found anywhere else in the world.

    
Angara river                                                                                                                          Lake Baikal

Shaman Rock
In the stretch of water between the Baikal Museum and Port Baikal it's possible to see a small part of a rock sticking out of the water. According to local legend, Old Man Baikal had 336 sons (which is the number of rivers that flow into the lake) and one daughter, the beautiful Angara. She enraged her father, because she refused to marry the feeble Irkut. She preferred the mighty Yenisey (Russia's longest river).  The old man chained her up, but one stormy night she slipped her bonds and fled north to her lover. As her father discovered this , he was furious. He hurled a huge boulder after her. She got away, but the rock is still to be seen.

    
                                                                                                         Lake                               Baikal

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