In 2001, Irkutsk celebrated its 340th birthday. It has been an important trading post since its foundation in 1661. The city is situated on the banks of the Angara River, which is the only outlet of Lake Baikal about 70 km southeast of the city. Irkutsk lies on ancient trade routes to Mongolia and China and to the Pacific coast. It used to be one of the main points on the Great Silk Road. It became an industrial city when a lot of heavy industry was evacuated to Siberia during World War II.
A large majority of people in Irkutsk and all Siberia are rather warm, friendly and hospitable, probably even more so than in other parts of Russia. It is because many of them are descendants of outstanding, well educated people who were being sent there into internal exile for two hundred years by the previous Russian regimes as punishment for trying to promote or start social reforms. The first famous ones were the aristocrat leaders of the Dekabrist Uprising who wanted to turn Russia into a republic. Among other achievements, these exiles founded in late 1800's the Irkutsk State University, which maintained high scientific and educational standards till our times.
Added Oct. 6, 2003: The monument (column) shown in slides 12 and 13 replaced in Soviet times a statue of czar Alexander III, who reigned Russia in the period of 1881 - 1894. In 2003, this column has been replaced again by a newly commissioned statue of Alexander III. See the new look of this place in the photo of the opening ceremony of the new statue that I have just obtained.