The City and Borough of Sitka, formerly New Archangel (Russian: Ново-Архангельск or Новоaрхангельск, t Novoarkhangelsk) under Russian rule, is a unified city-borough located on Baranof Island and the southern half of Chichagof Island in the Alexander Archipelago of the Pacific Ocean (part of the Alaska Panhandle), in the U.S. state of Alaska. It is the largest city-borough in the US, with a land area of 2,870.3 mi2 (7,434.1 km2) and a total area (including water area) of 4,811.4 mi2 (12,460.8 km2). With a population of 8,881 in 2010, Sitka is the fourth-largest city by population in Alaska. Urban Sitka, the part that is usually thought of as the "city" of Sitka, is situated on the west side of Baranof Island.
The current name "Sitka" (derived from Sheet’ká, a contraction of the Tlingit 'Shee At'iká') means "People on the Outside of Baranof Island", whose Tlingit name is Sheet’-ká X'áat'l (here contracted to Shee).
Sitka's location was originally settled by the Tlingit people over 10,000 years ago. The Russians settled Old Sitka in 1799 under the name Redoubt Saint Michael (t Fort Arkhangela Mikhaila). The governor of Russian America, Alexandr Baranov, arrived under the auspices of the Russian-American Company, a colonial trading company chartered by Tsar Paul I. In 1802, Tlingit warriors "clad in animal-headed helmets and armour" destroyed the original establishment, killing four hundred Russians and enslaving the rest, with only a few managing to escape. Baranov was forced to levy 10,000 rubles in ransom for the safe return of the surviving settlers.
Baranov returned to Sitka in 1804 with a large contingent of Russians and Aleuts with the Russian warship Neva. The ship bombarded the Tlingit fort but was not able to cause significant damage. The Russians then launched an attack on the fort and were repelled by Tlingit fighters and marksmen. However, the Tlingit gunpowder reserves had been lost before the Russian assault and the Tlingit were forced to leave the fort.
Following their victory at the Battle of Sitka, the Russians established New Archangel as a permanent settlement named after Arkhangelsk, the largest city in the region where Baranov was born. The Tlingit re-established a fort on the Chatham Strait side of Peril Strait to enforce a trade embargo with the Russian establishment. In 1808, with Baranov still governor, Sitka was designated the capital of Russian America.
The Cathedral of St. Michael was built in Sitka in 1848 and became the seat of the Russian Orthodox Bishop of Kamchatka, the Kurile and Aleutian Islands, and Alaska. The original church burnt to the ground in 1966, but was restored to its original appearance, with the deliberate exception of its clockface, which is black in photographs taken prior to 1966, but white in subsequent photos.
"As out of the way as it appears now, the settlement was once known as the "Paris of the Pacific;" for the first half of the nineteenth century, it was the most important port on the West Coast."
Bishop Innocent lived in Sitka after 1840. He was known for his interest in education, and his house, parts of which served as a schoolhouse, the Russian Bishop's House has since been restored by the National Park Service. Swedes, Finns and other Lutherans worked for the Russian-American Company, and the Sitka Lutheran Church, built in 1840, was the first Protestant church on the Pacific Coast. After the transition to American control, following the purchase of Alaska from Russia by the United States in 1867, the influence of other Protestant religions increased, and St. Peter's-By-The-Sea Episcopal Church was consecrated as "The Cathedral of Alaska" in 1900.
Sitka was the site of the ceremony in which the Russian flag was lowered and the United States flag raised after Alaska was purchased by the United States. Russia sold Alaska to the United States for only $7.2 million, at 2 cents per acre, as a result of the sea otter fur trade, which had almost completely exterminated the sea otter population. The flag lowering and raising ceremony is re-enacted in Sitka every October 18, known locally as Alaska Day. Alaska's first newspaper following the Alaska Purchase, the Sitka Times, was published by Barney O. Ragan on September 19, 1868. Only four issues were published that year, as Ragan cited a lack of resources available at the time. The paper resumed publishing the following year as the Alaska Times. In 1870, it moved to Seattle, where the year following it was renamed the Seattle Times (not to be confused with the modern-day newspaper of the same name).
Sitka served as the capital of the Alaska Territory until 1906, when the seat of government was relocated north to Juneau.
The Alaska Native Brotherhood was founded in Sitka in 1912 to address racism against Alaska Native people in Alaska. By 1914 the organization had constructed the Alaska Native Brotherhood Hall on Katlian Street.
Sitka's Filipino community established itself in Sitka before 1929. It later became institutionalized as The Filipino Community of Sitka in 1981.
While gold mining and fish canning paved the way for the town's initial growth, it wasn't until World War II, when the Navy constructed an air base on Japonski Island (bringing 30,000 service personnel to the area), that Sitka finally came into its own. Today Sitka encompasses portions of Baranof Island and the smaller Japonski Island (across the Sitka Channel from the town), which is connected to Baranof Island by the O'Connell Bridge. The John O'Connell Bridge was the first cable-stayed bridge built in the Western Hemisphere. Japonski Island is home to Sitka Rocky Gutierrez Airport (IATA:SIT, ICAO:PASI), the Sitka branch campus of the University of Alaska Southeast, Mt. Edgecumbe High School — a state-run boarding school for rural Alaskans, Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium's Mt. Edgecumbe Hospital, a U.S. Coast Guard air station, and the port and facilities for the USCGC Maple.
The home rule charter of the City and Borough of Sitka was adopted on 2 December 1971 for the region of the Greater Sitka Borough, which was incorporated on 24 September 1963. On October 23, 1973, the city of Port Alexander was detached from the borough.