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It has been said that one of the most striking things about Siberia is the scale. Just the name conjures images of vast snowy expanses, impossibly thick forests and incredibly high mountains. Its manmade features maintain the sense of scale, and with well over a million acres of water, Bratsk Reservoir is no exception. Sprawling across the Irkutsk Oblast in Russia, Bratsk is the largest manmade reservoir in Russia and one of the largest in the world.
An impoundment of the Angara River, Bratsk Reservoir was created by the Bratsk Dam. The dam was built for hydroelectric power, and construction started in 1954. The reservoir started filling in 1961. It wasn't finished, however, until 1967. After completion, it was considered the largest manmade reservoir in the world, but it has since been surpassed. The Bratsk Hydroelectric Power Plant is the second of four power plants on the Angara River including Irkutsk, Ust-Ilim, and Boguchany.
Growing in response to the construction of Bratsk Reservoir, the City of Bratsk supported the workers that built the reservoir. It is a modern city of approximately 300,000 people and has all the amenities traditionally found in a city its size. There are restaurants, hotels, theaters and museums. In addition to the hydroelectric power plant, local industry includes the manufacture of aluminum. The purpose of Bratsk Reservoir was to generate power, but over the years its value for recreation has grown. The shore of the lake has rest homes, health centers, and dachas (country homes). There are also camps organized by businesses for the benefit of workers.
The City of Bratsk wasn't the first Russian settlement in the area. Drawn by fur, timber, and minerals, the first Russians settled in eastern Siberia in the 17th century. In 1631, a group of Cossacks built a wooden fort with four towers at Padun Rapids. The fort was named Bratsk after the area's aboriginal tribes the "Bruyats." Two of the fort's original towers still stood when Bratsk Reservoir was filled; one of the towers was moved to Moscow and the other tower stands on the shore of Bratsk Reservoir as an example of wooden Russian architecture. The village that grew up around the fort was the only Russian settlement on the Angara River and it stayed small and isolated until construction of the reservoir began. The village was moved to protect it from flooding.
The Angara Village Ethnographical Museum chronicles the history of the area before the construction of the reservoir. The museum opened in June of 1982 and has a Russian village and farmsteads along with a model of the 17th century fort. There is also an exhibit of an Evenk nomad camp. The Evenk were the original Siberian Natives.
Today one of the easiest and most scenic ways to travel to the area is by rail. The Baikal Amur Mainline Railroad (BAM) currently runs across the top of Bratsk Dam. Traveling parallel to the Trans-Siberian Railroad, the BAM was created as a backup for military use. BAM crosses the country and passes Lake Baikal, the world's oldest and deepest lake. The section for Taishet to Bratsk is called the "Road of Courage" because of the difficulty workers had building it. Construction was begun in 1942, and it took 23 years to lay the rail between Taishet and Abakan. There are several railroad tours that offer visitors a chance to explore the magnificent Siberian landscape.
Siberia is a land of extremes - freezing temperatures, huge reservoirs and large stretches of land. Bratsk Reservoir is extreme in both size and importance and its recreation opportunities are growing.
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