Baikalia (or Baykalia) is a vague geographical term referring to the
region around Lake Baikal. It is less common than the concept of
Transbaikalia, the area to the east of Lake Baikal. The term Baikalia
is loosely defined and has no official definition.
Irkutsk is the biggest city in the region around Lake Baikal
The Baikal area has a long history of human habitation. An early known
tribe in the area was the Kurykans, forefathers of two ethnic groups:
Buryats and the Yakuts.
Located in the former northern territory of the
Baikalia was a theatre of the Han–
Xiongnu War, where the armies of
Han dynasty pursued and defeated the
Xiongnu forces from the 2nd
century BC to the 1st century AD. They recorded that the lake was a
"huge sea" (hanhai) and designated it the North Sea (Běihǎi) of the
semimythical Four Seas. The Kurykans, a Siberian tribe who
inhabited the area in the sixth century, gave it a name that
translates to "much water". Later on, it was called "natural lake"
(Baygal nuur) by the
Buryats and "rich lake" (Bay göl) by the
Yakuts. Little was known to Europeans about the lake until Russia
expanded into the area in the 17th century. The first Russian explorer
Lake Baikal was
Kurbat Ivanov in 1643.
Russian expansion into the Buryat area around Lake Baikal in
1628–58 was part of the Russian conquest of Siberia. It was done
first by following the Angara River upstream from
1619) and later by moving south from the Lena River. Russians first
heard of the
Buryats in 1609 at Tomsk. According to folktales related
a century after the fact, in 1623, Demid Pyanda, who may have been the
first Russian to reach the Lena, crossed from the upper Lena to the
Angara and arrived at Yeniseysk.
Vikhor Savin (1624) and
Maksim Perfilyev (1626 and 1627–28) explored
Tungus country on the lower Angara. To the west,
Krasnoyarsk on the
upper Yenisei was founded in 1627. A number of ill-documented
expeditions explored eastward from Krasnoyarsk. In 1628, Pyotr Beketov
first encountered a group of
Buryats and collected yasak (tribute)
from them at the future site of Bratsk. In 1629, Yakov Khripunov set
Tomsk to find a rumored silver mine. His men soon began
plundering both Russians and natives. They were joined by another band
of rioters from Krasnoyarsk, but left the Buryat country when they ran
short of food. This made it difficult for other Russians to enter the
area. In 1631,
Maksim Perfilyev built an ostrog at Bratsk. The
pacification was moderately successful, but in 1634,
destroyed and its garrison killed. In 1635,
Bratsk was restored by a
punitive expedition under Radukovskii. In 1638, it was besieged
In 1638, Perfilyev crossed from the Angara over the Ilim portage to
Lena River and went downstream as far as Olyokminsk. Returning, he
sailed up the
Vitim River into the area east of
Lake Baikal (1640)
where he heard reports of the Amur country. In 1641, Verkholensk was
founded on the upper Lena. In 1643,
Kurbat Ivanov went further up the
Lena and became the first Russian to see
Lake Baikal and Olkhon
Island. Half his party under Skorokhodov remained on the lake, reached
Upper Angara at its northern tip, and wintered on the Barguzin
River on the northeast side.
In 1644, Ivan Pokhabov went up the Angara to Baikal, becoming perhaps
the first Russian to use this route, which is difficult because of the
rapids. He crossed the lake and explored the lower Selenge River.
About 1647, he repeated the trip, obtained guides, and visited a
'Tsetsen Khan' near Ulan Bator. In 1648, Ivan Galkin built an ostrog
Barguzin River which became a center for eastward expansion. In
1652, Vasily Kolesnikov reported from Barguzin that one could reach
the Amur country by following the Selenga, Uda, and Khilok Rivers to
the future sites of Chita and Nerchinsk. In 1653,
Pyotr Beketov took
Kolesnikov's route to Lake Irgen west of Chita, and that winter his
man Urasov founded Nerchinsk. Next spring, he tried to occupy
Nerchensk, but was forced by his men to join Stephanov on the Amur.
Trans-Siberian Railway was built between 1896 and 1902.
Construction of the scenic railway around the southwestern end of Lake
Baikal required 200 bridges and 33 tunnels. Until its completion, a
train ferry transported railcars across the lake from
Port Baikal to
Mysovaya for a number of years. The lake became the site of the minor
engagement between the
Czechoslovak legion and the
Red Army in 1918.
At times during winter freezes, the lake could be crossed on
foot—though at risk of frostbite and deadly hypothermia from the
cold wind moving unobstructed across flat expanses of ice. In the
winter of 1920, the
Great Siberian Ice March occurred, when the
retreating White Russian Army crossed frozen Lake Baikal. The wind on
the exposed lake was so cold, many people died, freezing in place
until spring thaw. Beginning in 1956, the impounding of the Irkutsk
Dam on the Angara River raised the level of the lake by 1.4 m
Buryat shaman on Olkhon Island.
Russian map c. 1700, Baikal (not to scale) is at top.
Steam locomotive on the Circum-Baikal Railroad
The eastern coast of Lake Baikal
^ Chang, Chun-shu (2007). The Rise of the Chinese Empire: Nation,
State, and Imperialism in Early China, ca. 1600 B.C.-A.D. 8.
University of Michigan Press. p. 264.
^ Lincoln, W. Bruce (2007). The Conquest of a Continent: Siberia and
the Russians. Cornell University Press. p. 246.
^ "Research of the Baikal". Irkutsk.org. 18 January 2006. Retrieved
^ George V. Lantzeff and Richard A. Price, 'Eastward to Empire',1973
^ Открытие Русскими Средней И
Восточной Сибири (in Russian). Randewy.ru. Retrieved
Irkutsk Hydroelectric Power Station History". Irkutskenergo.