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Introducing Chita

The golden domes of Chita's new cathedral entice train travellers to hop off and explore this historic, patchily attractive city. If its architectural gems were less widely dispersed the city might be considered one of Siberia's more appealing. Sadly, each attractive area is a little too diffuse to make the overall impact particularly memorable. Nonetheless, the friendly, go-ahead atmosphere and lack of (non-Chinese) tourists makes Chita a pleasant place to spend a day or two.

Founded in 1653, Chita developed as a rough-and-tumble silver-mining centre till force-fed a dose of urban culture after 1827 by the arrival of more than 80 exiled Decembrist gentlemen-rebels - or more precisely by their wives and lovers who followed, setting up homes on what became known as ul Damskaya (Women's St). That's now the southern end of ul Stolyanova, where sadly only a handful of wooden cottages remain amid soulless concrete apartment towers.

As gateway to the new East Chinese Railway, Chita boomed in the early 20th century, despite flirting with socialism. Following the excitement of 1905, socialists set up a 'Chita Republic' which was brutally crushed within a year. After the 'real' revolutions of 1917, history gets even more exciting and complex. Bolsheviks took over, then lost control to Japanese forces who possibly intercepted part of the famous gold train before retreating east. By 1920 Chita was the cap- ital of the huge, short-lived Far Eastern Republic, a nominally independent, pro-Lenin buffer state whose parliament is now garishly over-renovated at ul Anokhina 63. The republic was absorbed into Soviet Russia in December 1922 once the Japanese had withdrawn from Russia's east coast. Closed and secretive for much of the Soviet era, today Chita is prosperous, rejuvenated and once again flooded with Chinese traders.