Skip to primary navigation Skip to content Skip to footer
Back to Blog

Siberian wooden houses keep you safe from harm

a garden in front of a building

Wooden architecture in Siberia

The fortress of Irkutsk was founded in 1661 on the confluence of two rivers: The Angara and The Irkut. The Irkut River gave the name to the town. The location of Irkutsk was chosen very smartly – the rivers were full of fish and the forest round the fortress was rich of fur animals. The rivers used to serve as main means of transportation and communication with remoted towns. The forest supplied people with building materials. That is why wooden houses had been widely spread over Irkutsk before the first brick plant was built.

Tourists usually come to Irkutsk on their way to Lake Baikal. For this reason, Irkutsk is called The Gateway to Baikal. But you shouldn’t take the town as a way station between you and the lake. Because Irkutsk is very beautiful and charming in its own way. It’s worth staying here at least for a day to spend time walking around and seeing something special that the town keeps deep in its heart. That special “gem” of Irkutsk is old wooden houses.

How to keep the evil away from your house?

a wooden bench in front of a building

In the 21st century, we have so many different devices to help us overcome a language barrier that some people see no reason in learning a single foreign word. But there is no magic spell like “ok google” when you speak the wooden house language.

Hundreds of years ago, people believed in good and evil spirits that were living side by side with them. They used to perform various rituals to please the gods of nature. They built houses and considered them to be their fortresses from evil. But the evil could be very sly in finding the way how to get inside and cause harm to the family. The most common ways to get inside were windows, doorways and chimneys. At that pagan time people invented symbols to protect their houses and families from getting harmed by the evil. They decorated widows, doorways and chimneys with them to keep the bad away. These symbols are a special language people used to speak.

Now we are going to reveal the secret how to read some of the main words of the wooden house language.

For Siberian people of the 17th-19th centuries their houses embodied the whole universe. The upper part represents the sky. It is decorated with three types of suns: a rising sun, a midday sun and a setting sun. The solar symbol is considered the most powerful one against evil forces. Symbols of rain as the living force of nature are also placed here.

The middle part of a house, where windows are, represents the earthen part of the world. So the symbols resemble fields under crop, plants, seeds and flowers.

The bottom part belongs to the underground world. Here you can recognize symbols of water and the sun. How come that the sun is underground? The thing is that the universe worked differently in people’s vision at that time. They were sure that the sun stayed underground all night long. It’s a very convenient explanation. Where was the sun then if it’s not in the sky?

All these protective symbols are made in a very sophisticated manner. Sometimes you can’t take your eyes off these wooden laces. When the sunrays come through them leaving lacy shadow on the walls, you feel like you have seen nothing more beautiful in your life.

Must see in Irkutsk

Every year Irkutsk is getting bigger and bigger. New multi-storied buildings are pushing away the old wooden houses. Modern people want their houses to be more comfortable and best equipped. Big city lifestyle is absorbing us. We are drifting apart from nature, losing a very important living link with the past. I feel it’s a good idea to know these wooden symbols. When you turn away from a busy street and find yourself in an old one dotted with lovely wooden houses, just hold on for a minute and listen to what they say. You can understand them.

When you are in Irkutsk heading to Lake Baikal, you should really stay in the city for a while. Now you know the reason why. It would be a great pleasure for ExploRussia guides to show you the most wonderful wooden houses.

Written by Marina, local guide