History of Irkutsk
The name of our city comes from the name of the Irkut River, which, in part, means "the rapid stream." So, Irkutsk means "the city near the rapid stream."
Irkutsk was founded in 1661 by Yakov Pokhabov and his people as winter quarters (later transformed into a fortress) at the mouth of the Irkut River. The location of the fortress was very favorable because there were natural borders (the Irkut River falling into the Angara) and an artificial one - the wall built by the founders of the fortress. The area of the original fortress was no more that 320 m².
The location of the original fortress is easy to imagine if we draw a triangle on the map with the apexes at three churches: the Spasskaya church, the Bogoyavlensky cathedral and the Roman-Catholic Church. This historical triangle shows the area of the original fortress. The height of its walls can be compared to the height of the present-day viaduct.
In 1686 (twenty-five years after the founding) Irkutsk was officially declared a city. By this time it has changed considerably. The level of culture, economy and administration was very high. The city became prosperous mostly because of extensive trade. Due to the fact that it had a very favorable situation, Irkutsk controlled many trade routes for buying and selling in the east, south and north. The city traded mostly with China, buying silk, tea, iron and other things. Irkutsk merchants soon became the richest in Russia. One can understand this by looking at the houses of the prosperous merchants, such as Vtoroff, Trapeznikoff and many others.
In 1690 the city was given its first coat of arms. It represented "babr" (on the coat of arms, this unknown animal looked very much alike a tiger) carrying a sable in his teeth.
In 1790 the coat of arms was officially recognized and slightly changed. The field of the shield became golden. It's interesting to note that long debates were conducted over this strange animal on the coat of arms. In Russian "babr" sounds very much like beaver ("bobr"), but scientists have never known an animal named "babr." With the help of ancient descriptions, it was tentatively concluded that this is a tiger. Nevertheless, it is still not entirely certain what this animal is. All this confusion only establishes that the coat of arms of 1790 represents a very strange creature that doesn't look like a beaver or like a tiger. The old shield is surrounded by golden oak leaves connected by St. Andrews's ribbon. On the top there is the Emperor's crown.
Nowadays the coat of arms doesn't have golden oak leaves, St. Andrews's ribbon and an Emperor's crown, but one can still see the strange "babr" with a sable, which represents the wealth of the city.
In the second half of the eighteenth century, Irkutsk province was transformed into Irkutsk Region with the addition of possessions from Yenisey to the Pacific Ocean and Alaska.
Thanks to the trade, the citizens obtained many luxuries, technical novelties and books. A picture-gallery and a theatre, schools and colleges, scientific institutions and hospitals were built.
The nineteenth century is marked by the construction of remarkable pieces of architecture. The houses of the well-off were designed by famous Russian architects. Most of the buildings of this period are still standing.
The architectural panorama of Irkutsk was created by the contrast of low wooden buildings and high churches. By the middle of the nineteenth century there were about 18,000 inhabitants in Irkutsk . The city attracted a wide variety of tourists by its location and architectural treasures. There were many beautiful churches, arches and other marvelous buildings that unfortunately didn't survive until today.
One of the main sights - Kiroff Square - had many name changes, but it was always very attractive to tourists and citizens. In 1894 the constuction of the cathedral was finished. It was one of the greatest cathedrals in Russia. Unfortunately, it was demolished during the Soviet period.
Before the Revolution in Irkutsk there were about 40 Orthodox churches, a Catholic church, a mosque and a synagogue. There were 3 cloisters, 2 monasteries and a nunnery.
In June 1879 a great disaster occurred, a fire that destroyed practically all the buildings, including schools, state and public-service institutions, and some churches. After the fire in the city there were only 3157 building. After the calamity, the turnaround began. Town hall decided not to construct wooden buildings along the Bolshaya (Big) Street, the main street. As a result, only stone buildings were permitted. In this very year the railway station was built. In 1910 the first electric street lamp appeared.
The twentieth century didn't contribute much to the general style of the city. The "industrial giants" and the new buildings of the Soviet period form an amusing mixture of styles with the old ones. We can certainly tell that the city kept the spirit of the past and managed to combine it with modern life in the twenty first century.