Irkutsk, a mountainous government of southern Siberia, to the NW. of Lake Baikal, occupies an area of 287,061 sq. m. The pop., 550,000 in 1905, consists of Buriats, Tunguses, and Russians (one-third exiles). The towns are Irkutsk, Kirensk, Nijniudinsk, and Verkholensk.
Irkutsk, the capital, on the Angara, is the residence of the governor-general of eastern Siberia. Although 3722 miles from St Petersburg (and 40 from Lake Baikal), Irkutsk is the bestbuilt town in Siberia, with straight, wide streets, and handsome public buildings. It possesses a cathedral, public library, natural history museum, etc. The pop., 32,512 in 1875, had increased to 53,000 in 1905; it consists mostly of Russians and Buriats. Irkutsk was founded by a Cossack chief in 1652. Owing to its position on the great Siberian highway between China and Russia, it is the commercial centre of Siberia, especially for the tea-trade; the annual value of its trade amounts to about £1,100,000. It is on the line of the great Siberian railway in progress. The Angara and Lena rivers are valuable water-ways. A fire in 1879 did £2,000,000 worth damage.