Irkutsk is one of the most beautiful cities that has been an advanced post of Russia on the large territory of Siberia and the Far East for over 300 years. It is located almost in the geographical center of Asia on the banks of the deep Angara river only 66 km (41 mi) from Lake Baikal. The city lies near the mouth of the river Irkut from which the name of the city derived from. It is situated 5,185 kilometers (3,222 mi) by railway from Moscow, and considered to be a half way from Moscow to Vladivostok along the Trans-Siberian Railway.
Irkutsk has the population of 593,000 people; judging by population it is one of the largest cities in the East of Russia only behind Krasnoyarsk. The city possesses the status of one of seven Russian cities with unique historical heritage. It has more than 300 registered archeological and architectural monuments. Irkutsk is the city with the original architecture.
Irkutsk was founded in 1661 as an outpost near Lake Baikal and passed through tumultuous early years. In 1668 the fort received the city status. The city has a long and eventful history.
The history of the city reflects fully the history of Siberia. The huge expanse of land generally known as Siberia that lies East of the Urals and North of the Kazakhstan boundary constitutes well over half of the territory of Russia. It is believed that the name of the area comes from the name of small Tatar town of Sibir on the eastern side of the Urals. It was captured at the outsets of exploration of the territory in 1583 by a small band of Cossacks under the leadership of Ermak, who was commissioned by the Stroganov family to open up this area for fur trading.
Irkutsk economic importance grew after 1700 when it became a transit point to Mongolia and China. In 1764 Irkutsk became an administrative centre of extensive area extending from the river Yenisei up to Alaska. Since 1803 Irkutsk was the residence of the general-governor of all Siberia. In 1825 Irkutsk became the capital of Eastern Siberia and Alaska. In the XIX-th century Irkutsk was considered to be a cultural center mainly because of the large number of intellectuals exiled to this part of Siberia after Decembrist revolt in St. Petersburg.
In 1879 many public and private buildings were destroyed by fire. Three quarters of the city were destroyed, including approximately four thousand houses. However, the city quickly rebounded with electricity arriving in 1896 the first theater being built in 1897 and a major train station in 1898. The first train arrived in Irkutsk on August 16 of that year. By 1900, the city had earned the nickname “The Paris of Siberia”.