Irkutsk is the administrative center of Irkutsk Oblast, one of the most important places in Siberia, being not only the principal commercial depot north of Tashkent, but also a fortified military post, and an archbishopric city of the Russian Church. Irkutsk grew out of the winter quarters established (1652) by Ivan Pokhabov for the collection of the fur tax from the Buryats. Its existence as a town dates from 1686.
The most significant person in the religious life of Irkutsk is Saint Innocent of Alaska (1797–1879, born Ivan Veniaminov) who was born near Irkutsk, and later entered into the Orthodox priesthood. He did missionary travels with his family to the Aleutians. He learned local languages and translated the Gospels and the hymns. Later, after his wife died, Veniaminov became a monk, Innocent. He was raised to bishop, and then archbishop of Kamchatka, the Kurile and Aleutians Islands until 1867 when he was appointed Metropolitan of Moscow.
During the civil war that broke out after the Bolshevik Revolution, Irkutsk became the site of many furious, bloody clashes between the "Whites" and the "Reds". In 1920, Kolchak, the once-feared commander of the largest contingent of anti-Bolshevik forces, was executed there, effectively destroying the anti-Bolshevik resistance.
Despite the fact that Irkutsk is well over three hundred years old, the average age of today's population is only 31.6 years. It is a city of youth and students. There are 36 institutes and colleges and 9 vocational schools. Every day 166,646 pupils attend school in the city.From a Russian folk song:
“There are taller and more beautiful cities.
But wherever the roads of the Irkutsk townspeople lie,
They see and hear you,
Dear Irkutsk is the middle of the Earth.”