Slyudyanka is one of the few settlements with the status of a town at Lake Baikal. For many years it has been distinguished for its rock quarries, among which marble ones were the most extensive and important.
The marble of the mountains at the Baikal is certainly special, provoking unexpected associations, reflections and revelations, and it induced the British writer Alan Sillitow, who visited Slyudyanka quarry once, to see something extraordinary, humane, and inspired in it: "The marble was colorful – pink and beige, blue, as Vedvudsk porcelain, white, and regal blue – the colors of wedding and confectionery. I got a few pieces and put them into the pocket of my cloak to bring them to London. It was a rough, soft sort of marble and at the same time heavy, glittering thanks to the half-hidden crystals and many facets. I picked up another piece and sniffed it. Even when it is wet, it smells the Baikal ice, wind and the remoteness of the newly paved roads of Siberia, or I’d rather say it does not smell at all, as only emptiness of these places brings these comparisons, that do not actually exist. It is like when you put a seashell to your ear and hear the sound of the sea. You do not hear anything, but you want to hear something, even if it's just the noise in your head.
But anyway that touch of marble with lips and its imaginary scent remained in my memory of Lake Baikal and Siberia. The marble had the cedar, poplar, cherry tree, alder, Siberian apple, strawberry, raspberry, blueberry, red currant; the gull, heron, cormorant, sturgeon, omul, grayling, deep-sea Baikal oilfish, who lives at a depth of two thousand feet in it. The marble smelt of the mountain snow, flakes that fell from the branches of trees, sufficiently strong to hold out much greater ".
In the past there were some international problems connected with the marble mines. Thus, at one of the Cannes Film Festivals during the Cold War the West German film “The Devil Plays the Balalaika” was shown. The action took place in a marble quarry near the Baikal, where captive Germans and Japanese worked hard, felt cold and then died. The Soviet ideological system denied the facts, but we can say there's no smoke without fire.
Near the southern coast of Lake Baikal in the upper River Small Fast there is the only lazurite deposit in Russia. It was discovered in 1785 by the Russian naturalist Eric Laxman (Laxman came from Finland; he studied the nature of Siberia for a long time). It was a lucky chance for him. The first sample of a blue stone with tints of azure was brought to him by the local Kultuk peasant Voina. From the first sight Laxman saw the value of the stone, and several samples of the stone were sent to St. Petersburg to the Academy of Science. Pretty soon Europe would get to know that lapis-lazuli was found in abundance not only in Afghanistan, in Badakhshan province (that deposit was then considered to be the largest in the world), but also in the South Baikal area. The deposit turned out to be so rich that soon one of the halls of the Catherine Palace in Tsarskoe Selo was decorated with plates of this extraordinary, beautiful mineral. And the marvelous room got the name Azure. Its beneficial impact on a human can be explained by the color and the healing properties that have been attributed to the stone since the past: it assists the treatment of nervous disorders and weak eyesight.
But the stone wealth of the Baikal, such as marble, granite, isinglass stone, lapis-lazuli, nephrite, topaz was not always used properly. Thus, the Italians, who worked in railway tunnels around the Baikal in the early 20th century, marveled at the abundance of different minerals, but the road builders could tile only the station in Sludyanka with local marble. Even for the monument to Alexander III the granite was brought to Irkutsk not from the lake, but from Finland, though the Baikal granite is better in quality than the Finnish one.
Historically the name Pokhabikha is also very interesting. It’s the name of a small river, which flows into Lake Baikal in the locality where the town of Slyudyanka is situated. It is named in honor of one of the most famous pioneers of Lake Baikal Ivan Pokhabov. He is considered to be the founder of Irkutsk, and it is planned to establish a monument to him in honor of the 350th birthday of the city in 2011.
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