Escorted Rail Tours to Irkutsk
Home to the exiled Decembrists
Irkutsk is one of largest and best-known cities in Siberia. It
takes its name from the nearby Irkut River, which meets the mighty,
1,640-feet-wide (580 metres) Angara River close to the city.
Surrounded by dense forest lands, Irkutsk was founded in 1661 as a
fort to colonise lands stretching right through Siberia to Alaska.
Though little is known about the place from that time, it gained
notoriety in the early 19th century, when many Russian nobles,
artists and officers were sent into exile in the city for taking
part in the Decembrist revolt against Tsar Nicholas I.
Being so far from most of Russia's major centres of
commerce and communication, it was felt that Irkutsk was remote and
removed enough for the rebels to be not only punished, but also to
prevent them from managing a successful uprising. Many of the
Decembrists thrived in exile, and chose to remain in Irkutsk even
when Tsar Alexander II restored their rights and granted them
amnesty in 1856.
From the arrival of the Decembrists onwards, Irkutsk became the
major spot for social and intellectual life for these exiles. Much
of the city's cultural heritage came from them, and today many of
their wooden houses, adorned with hand-carved decorations survive -
in stark contrast with apartment blocks that surround them. In 1970
the former home of key Decembrist Sergei Trubestkoy was restored
and opened as a museum commemorating the movement, and their
influence on Irkutsk.