Like most cities in Siberia, Irkutsk did not appear on the maps until the 17th century. It was first established as a winter quarters for gold trade and the collection of fur taxes. The first road connection to Moscow was built in 1760 and triggered the development of the town. When the Decembrist revolt of 1825 saw many Russian intellectuals, nobles and artists sent into Siberian exile, Irkutsk became a centre of their cultural, intellectual and social life. The city was subsequently described as ‘the Paris of Siberia’.
Under the Soviet regime Irkutsk was increasingly industrialised and became important for water-power engineering. Nevertheless it lost its status as the hub of life in Siberia to Novosibirsk. It still remains one of Siberia’s most important centres for art and culture.