Siberia, meaning "sleeping land," is a large region inside Russia, extending from the Ural Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. The southwest area expands into Mongolia and China, touching the north of Kazakhstan. Much of this region is uninhabitable, covered by either permafrost or thick taiga. Eastern Siberia is well-known for its mountain ranges and water bodies, including Lake Baikal, the deepest and cleanest lake in the world. The north coast of the region is north of the Arctic Circle.
Until the construction of the Trans-Siberian railway at the end of the 20th century, Siberia remained inaccessible to everybody except for local nomads such as the Huns, Yenets, and Uyghurs. The creation of the railway, which runs 5,772 miles (9,288 kilometers) from Moscow to Vladivostok, opened the door for further exploration and settlements. Construction workers and agriculturalists were the first to move to the East, encouraged by a government campaign to populate Eastern Russia. By the 1930s, two cities, Omsk and Novosibirsk, had already become cultural and business centers.
Siberia is infamous for its gulags, or labor camps, first established in 1917 but not officially recognized until 1930. The gulags were used to house not only criminals, but also political prisoners. By 1939, there were over 1.5 million prisoners in the camps. Those people who were freed after finished their sentences were not allowed to settle back in the big cities, which lead to the creation of towns all around the region.
Modern Siberia is progressive and thriving. While the population remains low at only three people per square kilometer, the region has developed a cultural presence that transcends frontiers. Novosibirsk, the largest city in Siberia and the third in the country after Moscow and St. Petersburg, houses the State Academy Opera and Ballet Theater, a large scientific research center, and a large variety of casinos, universities, and theaters.
Today, visitors come to Siberia to experience extremes. Summer on the north coast is only about a month long. Winter visitors can stop in Novosibirsk to see what it's like to breathe in -34.6°F (-37°C), or head to the Altai Mountains for hiking, skiing or rafting.