The Watch

Irkutsk Historic Center

Irkutsk, Siberia, Russia

1998 and 2000 World Monuments Watch

The village of Irkutsk, which in 1686 became the capital of Oriental Siberia, was an important stop on commercial trade routes between the Orient and the Occident. Irkutsk lies midway between Moscow and Vladivostock. The city's history is closely linked with the revolutionary nobles who rebelled against the Czar in December 1825 (hence the name "Decembrists"). These nobles introduced French language and culture to the city, strong traces of which endure. The city's historical profile is augmented by its rich eighteenth-century architectural heritage of multi-colored, two-story wooden houses. Most of these eighteenth-century dwellings feature galleries and carved cornices. A fire in 1879 destroyed many houses. Of the 1,500 that survive today, one third are in very precarious condition (the Russian financial crisis of August 1998 further aggravated the situation). A Paris-based organization has been working since 1993 to secure funds to rehabilitate the houses and has already carried out restoration work on the Chastine house and planning for one other. Completion of the work on these two houses would provide prototypes for a city-wide program.

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