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Founded in the mid-17th century as a winter quarters for traders and tax collectors, Irkutsk came to prominence in the 1800s. Participants in the Decembrist revolt against Tsar Nicholas I were exiled to Siberia in droves, turning Irkutsk into their cultural center. Today, it’s one of Siberia’s biggest and most important cities, with over half a million people, many universities, many historic churches and museums, and beautiful Lake Baikal, just about an hour away by train.