Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Alaskan History Cruise, Part Four - History of Sitka

(Saint Michael's Russian Orthodox Cathedral)

This post is a bit difficult to make. Not because Sitka is lacking in history, but because it may well be the most historic city in Alaska! I was overwhelmed with history today as I explored the city and nearby area.

History of Sitka

In the 1500s, the Tlingit settled what is now Sitka. They called the area "Shee Atika." Russians would later have trouble pronouncing this so they shortened it to Sitka.

In 1741, Vitus Bering was the first known European to discover what is now Sitka. In 1790, Alexander Baranof was appointed the first governor of Russian America. A few years later (1799), Governor Baranof built a fort close to Sitka.

Relations between the natives and the Russians were not smooth. After years of uneasy truce, Tlingit warriors destroyed the Russian fort in 1802. Very few Russians survived the battle. Baranof was enraged and in 1804 (with Russian naval support) fought the six day Battle of Sitka. The Russians won the battle and designated Sitka the capital of Russian Alaska in 1808.

In 1867, Alaska was sold to the United States for the sum of 7.2 million dollars. The official change of sovereignty ceremony was held in Sitka. Sitka then became the capital of the American Alaskan territory. Sitka would serve as the capital until 1906 when the seat of government was relocated north to Juneau.

Sitka today is a thriving cannery town. The port is the 34th most economically valuable in the USA due to the amount of fish harvested and shipped from here. It is also a popular cruise ship destination.

Miland in Sitka

My wife and I started the day with a 4 mile hike in the Tongass National Forest. This forest is all over southeast Alaska. While hiking, the guides showed us the site of the original Russian fort that was sacked in 1802. Other than that, the hike was enjoyable but not very historically themed.

Our afternoon hike was more history themed. We took a walking tour of the city. We saw several sites including:

1. Saint Michael's Russian Orthodox Cathedral - This historic cathedral was originally built by the Russians. It burned to the ground in a fire in the 1970s. The citizens of Sitka were able to save 95% of the icons and the cathedral was later rebuilt based on the original blue prints.

2. Russian Bishop's House - This was constructed out of native spruce in 1842 by Finnish carpenters. It is one of only four surviving examples of Russian Colonial Style architecture in the Western Hemisphere. Father Ivan Evseyevich Popov-Veniaminov) of the Russian Orthodox Church occupied the residence until 1859. The Church operated the facility as a school, residence, and place of worship for another century.

3. Sitka National Historical Park - This park had nice hiking trails. It also had a large number of native totems. A guide explained the historic significance of each.

Previous Post: Alaskan History Cruise, Part Three - History of Glacier Bay

Next Post: Alaskan History Cruise, Part Five - History of Ketchikan

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