Unique architecture of Irkutsk
The first Russian settlers came to the confluence of Irkut and Angara rivers in the middle of XVII century. Since those times, the city grew, changed, burned, got rebuilt and formed a unique look. Architectural styles mixed. The wooden buildings are a part of a preliminary UNESCO heritage list. Irkutsk baroque makes way into photographers’ albums, and the neo-brutalism style brings researches from across the whole country.
The way it all began: the Kremlin of Irkutsk and Spasskaya Church
The architectural ensemble of Irkutsk is one of the few in Siberia staying almost the same since Tsar Russia. However, the earliest buildings, like Irkutsk Kremlin, did not survive to see the present day. Many citizens don’t even suspect they ever existed.
The Kremlin has grown in place of the Irkutsk fortress, which, despite only being 17 meters wide and 19 meters long, protected the town from the raids of Siberian tribes. The only part of the building surviving today is Spasskaya Church, built in early XVII century. Nowadays, it’s the oldest stone church in Eastern Siberian and the Far East regions of Russia. Together with Bogoyavlenski Cathedral, this church survived though the Soviet era, having been a cobbler shop and a communal house, and now being a part of the oldest architectural ensemble of the city.
The church has a museum on the inside, and people are allowed to climb the bell tower on certain days
The White House and National History Museum
Another prominent ensemble stands in the beginning of Karl Marx Street, formerly called Big Pershpektivnaya Street. The Governor-Generals resides here from 1837 to 1917. The building has a long, long history behind it – built in early XIX by mayor Sibiryakov, it was a center of social life. The doors were always open to visitors, and the decorations amazed the guests with their graceful design. Two statues of sleeping lions adorned the gates until Bolsheviks got the building. The White House was a residence for those who decided the fate in the city in the Soviets in 1917. Today, this house is the main building of the Irkutsk State University library.
Right across from the White House stands the National History Museum, one of the largest museums in Siberia and one of the oldest in the country. It was built the XVIII century, just before the governmental residence. The architecture of the museum is Moorish. Northern-African architecture looks surprising in Siberia even today, in the twenty-first century – to say nothing about how out-of-place it looked in the XVIII. Next to the museum stands a monument to Alexander the Third, a Russian Emperor who ordered the construction of the Trans-Siberian railway.
Decembrists in Irkutsk
Architecture of the estates
The Decembrists came to Irkutsk after the uprising of 1825. This story is well known to any Russian who attended high school. Politically exiled Trubetskoy, Volkonsky, Muraviev, Davydov, Obolensky and many others started coming to the city in 1826. Upon their arrival they were sent forward into penal servitude. Until 1845, most Decembrists only visited the city for short periods of time. Little by little, Trubetskoy and Volkonsky princes came to reside in the city. Their estates are nowadays open to visitors. Volkonsky alley has a whole complex of architectural structures, including a wooden theater and Preobrajeniya Gospodnya church. During the summer, Volkonsky estate hosts open-air movie nights.
Zhelyabovsky complex, Europa house and 130th Quarter
UNESCO pays close attention to the city, as no other town in Russia has anything similar to the wooden architecture of Irkutsk. This unique style is a result of a being caught between different cultures, namely, Eastern European Orthodox culture and Buryats’ Shamanism and Buddhist traditions.
Migrating to Irkutsk, Cossacks, merchants and farmers built their own homes, unwittingly adopting traditional Siberian motifs of carved Buddhist symbols and atypical forms. They also kept up with the architectural practices of Europe. And so, a unique style of Irkutsk baroque was born. Incidentally, the same methods were adopted for the construction of stone churches – but not many of them stand to this day. Nowadays, Irkutsk wooden architecture is being rebuilt and restored.
Take a walk through the city center to enjoy the view of Irkutsk wooden architecture. Start with Friedrich Engels Street, detouring into the courtyard or the city museum and Europa House. Walk towards Babushkin Street and then turn to Zhelyabov Street, which still keeps Irkutsk wooden houses as an architectural style. Proceed to the 130th Quarter, where the restored wooden huts serve as shops, museums and restaurants, creating a new center of city life.
UNESCO pays close attention to the city, as no other town in Russia has anything similar to the wooden architecture of Irkutsk
The legacy of Soviet architecture
During the Soviet era, Irkutsk grew and developed with an alarming speed. From here, people managed dozens of mines, factories and wells in Eastern Siberia. During these times, constructivism style entered — and stayed a part of the architectural image of the city. With time, USSR State Bank building and Railroad Management building were supplemented with elements of classical order. Throughout the city, Stalinka apartment blocks grew like mushrooms. These Stalinkas are the buildings constructed in the Soviet classicism style between 1930 and 1956. Leningrad architect Pavlov later gave way to Irkutsk neo-brutalism, constructing the famous legged house and the boomerang apartment block.
…and everything else
If you want to sort out all styles of Irkutsk architecture, you’ll wander around the city for an eternity. The Blacksmith House, the Feinberg House, the newly rebuilt Amur gates — it’s nearly impossible to list it all. Quiet streets full of wooden houses stand next to giant malls, and a sports stadium is right across one of the oldest theaters in Siberia.
Irkutsk is considered lucky, as the Soviet rule destroyed much less of the oldest architecture as it did in neighboring Siberian cities. Despite this luck, some of the architecture was lost. Some of the buildings are nowadays being restored — for example, the Kharlampiev Church on the 5th Army Street used to be a student campus in USSR. Some buildings are remembered only thanks to books and albums, some serve as an inspiration for documentaries. In other words, Irkutsk architecture enthusiasts do everything they can to describe, rebuild and preserve the old city.