Siberia is the Asian part of the Russian Federation, extending from the Ural Mountains in the west to the Pacific Ocean in the east. It is bounded on the north by the Arctic Ocean and on the south by Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and China. Although its area is about 13 million sq kms or about 77% of the total area of the Russian Federation, its population is sparse (36 million people) and concentrated in a narrow belt along the route of the Trans-Siberian Railroad.
West Siberia is a vast, swampy, forested plain drained by the Ob river and its tributary, the Irtysh river. East Siberia, east of the Yenisey river, is an upland; the easternmost part, including the Amur and Lena river basins, is often called the Russian Far East.
The name Siberia (Russian: Sibir) was first applied in the 13th century to a Tatar khanate on the Irtysh River and was gradually extended eastward to the Pacific. Russian conquest of Siberia began with the expedition of the renown Cossack Yermak in 1581 and continued through the 17th century. Siberian furs and minerals became a major source of wealth for the Russian Empire. From the early 17th century Siberia was also used as a penal colony for criminals and political prisoners. The 18th century witnessed the flow of settlers into Siberia who laid out town with forts, churches and rows of little huts. The coming of theTrans-Siberian Railway in the 1890’s initiated urbanization. Wherever the railway crossed a river a new town was established.
In the 1990s, with the breakup of the Soviet Union and the opening of Russia to free-market influences, foreign investors became interested in exploiting Siberia's natural resources, which include petroleum, natural gas, and timber.
The city of Irkutsk is one of the oldest and most attractive Siberian cities. The city has a long and eventful history that fully reflects the history of Siberia. Irkutsk is the capital of Irkutsk Region in Russia. It is situated in southern Siberia, on the Angara River, near its outlet from Lake Baikal. The city has a population of 1 million people. Irkutsk is named after the small river Irkut which enters the Angara here. Irkutsk is one of Siberia's largest cities, situated on the Trans-Siberian Railroad, and serves as a supply base for the development of Siberian resource areas to the north. The major tourist attractions are Bogoyavleniya Cathedral, the Church of Our Savior (Spasskaya) and the Cathedral of the Epiphany (Bogoyavlensky).
Lake Baikal (meaning "the rich lake" in Buryat) is in southern Siberia, located between Irkutsk Region to the northwest and the Buryat Republic to the southeast, near the city of Irkutsk. It is also known as the "Blue Eye of Siberia". It contains more water than all of the North American Great Lakes combined. At 1,637 meters, Lake Baikal is the deepest lake in the world, and the largest freshwater lake in the world by volume. Baikal is home to more than 1,700 species of plants and animals, two thirds of which can be found nowhere else in the world. At more than 25 million years old, it is the oldest lake in the world. The lake is completely surrounded by mountains. The Baikal Mountains on the north shore and the taiga are technically protected as a national park. It contains 22 islands; the largest, Olkhon, is 72 kilometers long and is the fourth-largest lake-bound island in the world. The scenic railway loop encircling Lake Baikal required 200 bridges and 33 tunnels. It has the name of Circumbaikal Railway being the part of Trans-Siberian Railway. The lake, called "the Pearl of Siberia", drew investors from the tourist industry as energy revenues sparked an economic boom. The popular resort of Listvyanka is home to the seven-story Hotel Mayak. Baikal was also declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1996.