What to See in Irkutsk
Irkutsk is located in eastern Siberia, right on the shores of the Angara River. The city was founded in 1661, when Russian settlers began to trade with local tribes of Buryats, Yakuts, and Evenks. Later it became a crossroads for trade with China. In 1764, the city was anointed as the capital of Siberia, which lasted until the Soviet era.
Irkutsk had its own unique and ornate sense of architecture: the Siberian Baroque. To this day a number of small neighborhoods are preserved where stone mansions and modest wooden homes still stand.
The Decembrist Museum
In December of 1825, a group of Russian noblemen led an uprising against tsar Nicholas I. Many of these Decembrist revolutionaries were exiled to Irkutsk with their families. Some twenty years later, the Volkon’ski family home became the cultural centre of old Irkutsk. Today it is a museum, where a number of historical treasures are housed. The original furniture and belongings of the rebels can be found here, including a number of personal letters. There are many works of embroidery, as well as various jewels and rings that belonged to the Volkon’skis—some of which were actually made from the very shackles that once confined them.
The Okhlopkov Dramatic Theatre
This is one of the old theatres in Irkutsk. It only acquired its reputation as a truly professional playhouse, however, after 1850, when a wondering troupe of actors decided to remain in Irkutsk to work year-round. In 1995 this building was designated by the national government as an historical and cultural landmark.
The Cathedral of the Epiphany
The Cathedral of the Epiphany (also known as the Cathedral of the Lord’s Appearance) is an Eastern Orthodox temple that gained the status of a cathedral during the 18th Century. Built originally in 1693, it is currently the second oldest stone building in all of Irkutsk.
The Irkutsk Regional Museum of Culture and Lore
This is the oldest museum in Siberia, having been established on the 3rd of December 1782. It holds a truly unique collection of documents and other objects of cultural significance, including the writings of various famous scientists and other leading historians of Asian life.
The Skuchaev Regional Museum of Art in Irkutsk
This museum holds the oldest (and one of the largest) collections of fine art in all of eastern Russia, including works by artists stretching from the Ural Mountains to the Russian Far East.
The Angara Icebreaker Museum
The Angara is an old steamboat icebreaker that was used in tsarist times, which now acts as a museum. It is the oldest icebreaker of its kind that still exists in the world. It was shipped in pieces from Newcastle (England) to be re-assembled here on Lake Baikal. After its construction was complete, it would transport passengers and cargo across the lake throughout the early 20th Century.
The House of Europe
The House of Europe, also known as the House of Lace, is one of the more popular stops for visitors to Irkutsk. It is famous as one of the oldest wooden houses to still survive with its original ornate carvings and insets. The decorations on the facades here, and the intricate turrets, carved figures, and wooden columns, distinguish this 2-story house as a true original.
The 130 Quarter of Town (an old Irkutsk settlement)
The so-called 130 Quarter of town is a specially designated area that boasts a number of historic buildings, including several dozen of the most prominent historical and architectural landmarks in Irkutsk.
The “White House”
The so-called “White House” is a small palace near the center of Irkutsk. A famous architect from St. Petersburg designed it. At present it holds the scientific library for Irkutsk State University.
The Statue of Alexander III
This monument was erected in 1908, as a sign of gratitude to the tsar Alexander III for completing the railroad here. In 1920 the statue was removed by the Soviets, leaving only the platform on which it stood. In the year 2003 an exact copy was placed back upon the same platform on which it had stood nearly a century ago.
The Moscow Gates
The Moscow Gates (dating back to 1813) loom three stories high, as a triumphal arch overlooking the banks of the Angara River. The style of this arch is an odd combination of Empire, Renaissance and Romanesque. In the gaps in this arch you could once find the gatekeepers to this outpost; in 1925, however, the Gates were demolished. They were only rebuilt in 2011—on the 350th anniversary of the founding of Irkutsk.