Buryats (the closest living descendants of Mongols) and Evenks (the word «shaman» originates from their language) live near Irkutsk. The first Japanese community outside of Japan, consisting of fishermen who were swept away by storms to Russia, is located here. Chinese merchants were also frequent visitors to Irkutsk. During the 18th century, this mixing of cultures gave rise to a unique architectural style called Irkutsk Baroque; for example, here you can see Orthodox churches decorated with Buddhist patterns.
Don’t be surprised by the steeple of the Catholic church not far from the churches of the Irkutsk ostrog or by the synagogue on a wooden lane. In the 19th century, exiled Poles and Jews formed large communities in Siberian cities. Many of these exiled people became explorers of Siberia, and mountains and rivers are still named after them today.
Irkutsk’s most famous exiles were the Decembrists. They were a group of noblemen, who, in December 1825 in Saint Petersburg, tried to organize something like the present-day «velvet revolutions», demanding the introduction of a constitution. The rebellion was suppressed, its leaders were hung, and the other participants were sent to do hard labor in Siberia. Many of their wives chose to follow them there. Over time, hard labor was replaced by exile, and the Decembrists who were not worn down after years in the mines and factories decided to stay in Siberian cities. The homes of the Muravyovs or Volkonskys became cultural centers of Siberia.