Odesa, My Native City


Odesa. What is it about this city that draws the adventurous soul? As cities go, it's a younger one, but getting older; in 2016 Odesa celebrated its 222nd anniversary!

Let's go back some to the date of its birth. On the 27th of May in 1794, the Russian Empress Catherine the Great signed the order prescribing to lay the fortification on the shores of Khadzibey Bay and to start the harbor development. 

On the 2nd of September 1794, under the surveying of General Major Duke Suvorov, they had begun the foundation works for the future port. With the technologies of the present day, it is not so easy to picture what tremendous efforts and civic courage were required of the Khadzibey pioneers.

After, the fortress and the port, which had been suggested by Suvorov, gave rise to the future town. Firstly, not more than 30 buildings in stone were erected along the harbor. An arsenal, storehouses, hospital, frontier control, and quarantine buildings were built by and for Khadzibey's first inhabitants: soldiers, Cossacks, and the sailors of Deribas' flotilla. On 1795 the fortress had been renamed Odesa.

The development of Odesa has much in common with that of Petersburg, which was often referred to as the "Northern Palmira". Odesa was founded on the Black Sea coast as a "window on Europe", and just like Petersburg, it sprang up in an undeveloped area, far from inhabited lands.

And now it is not by mere chance when we say that the city's history is rich and various. Different factors have influenced the rapid and considerable progress of its economics.

The seaport of Odesa represents just one of high importance for foreign trade in the region, and in short order, the city became one of the biggest centers of developed industry and science. While Odesa is famous for its cultural traditions and fine architecture, on a sightseeing tour of the city, the visitors become familiar not only with the most original and known parts of Odesa but with it, the rich history. We are proud that a whole galaxy of artists, poets, and scientists has made a considerable contribution to its glory.

Suffice it to mention such prominent figures as Mechnikov, Pirogov, Mendeleev, Pushkin, and Bunin lived here. The Odesa Theatre of Opera and Ballet, known not only in Ukraine, but also throughout Europe, heard the singing of Shalyapin and Sobinov and saw performances of Tchaikovsky, and Rimsky-Korsakov. Today the city's population members about one million, not as high as at the fall of the Soviet Union (1.5 million) but Odesa is growing again, and always developing.

Odesa seaport

Around the time of the Socialist Revolution, a grand complex was completed, which comprised of a ramp bridge across the railway lines and warehouses on the Novy Pier and a new building for the seaport. The architects V. Golovin and V. Kremlyakov succeeded in creating a modern transport center, the "sea gates" of Odesa. The specific arrangement and the form of the structural elements, sloping galleries, and transparent surfaces produce a peculiar effect as if the structure is reaching the sea horizon. The spacious main hall brightly lit by the sun through large windows is particularly impressive.

Monument to Alexander Pushkin

The Odesa period of Pushkin's art was a fruitful one. During thirteen months of his staying here (from July 3rd, 1823 to August 1st, 1824) the great poet began work on the "Tzigans" poem and wrote "The Fountain of Bakhchisaray" and two chapters of his legendary "Eugene Onegin" novel. The Odessites honored the memory of the talented artist; now one of the main streets of the city is named after Alexander Pushkin. The monument to Alexander Pushkin, located just opposite the Municipal Building, was unveiled in 1889. The sculptor Zh. Polonskaya modeled this bronze bust of the great poet. A granite pedestal was executed according to the plan drawn up by the architect Kh. Vasilyev is given the form of a truncated pyramid. Water jetting from the fishes' mouths flows down into the shell-shaped bowls of iron placed on the granite stylobate.

Architecture and Monuments of Odesa

Odesa is one of the world’s major ports and an important center of industry, science, and culture. Odesa's mild climate, warm waters, and sunlit beaches attract thousands of people year-round. Its shady lanes, beautiful buildings, and cozy squares impart to the city a certain air of intimacy. Odesa is simply enchanting with its marvelous architecture.

The city proved itself fertile ground for various architectural styles. Some buildings display a carious mixture of different styles, and some are built in the Art Nouveau Style, which was in vogue at the turn of the century. A number of other buildings were done in Renaissance or Classicist styles, which again returned to favor early this century.

The record of the various types of structures illustrates the city's past, brief, yet eventful. Odesa is young, its history goes back to the late 18th century when a small settlement named Khadzhibei was made on the Black Sea shore in the vast steppe wilderness, which Russia militarily claimed from Turkey shortly before.

Later, the settlement was given the name of Odesa. It was destined to become the pearl of the Black Sea maritime region, its "Southern Palmira". This commercial city on the sea coast grew at an accelerated pace, its population considerably increased and by the early 20th century it totaled over half a million residents, far more than in the older cities, and ranked third after Petersburg and Moscow.

The first city plan designed by the engineer F. Devollan in the late 18th century was executed by the generations of Odesa architects that followed. As early as the first half of the 19th century, the numerous landowners who had moved to Odesa attracted by the profitable grain trade started constructing their private residences.

As a rule, they would build palace compounds: two-storied mansions with forecourts, wrought iron grilles, and porticos indicating the entrance. Even today, the formal halls of these palaces are strikingly opulent. The mansions of wealthy merchants and factory owners built to the designs of the best Odesa architects were concealed in the greenery of Frantsuzsky Boulevard.

Alexander Kuprin, the prominent Russian author, wrote of Odesa in his "Autumnal Flowers":

Flashing on the left and on the right are enchanting glimpses of Odesa millionaires' villas with extravagant openwork grilles, decorated with dragons and coats-of-arms; brightly lit terraces in the depth of the gardens adorned with Chinese lanterns, a kaleidoscope of colors in the fore gardens and on the flowerbeds; rare plants with intoxicating aromas...

The architectural ensemble of Primorsky Boulevard attests to the high standards of Odesa architects. Designed as the compositional pivot of the city, the Boulevard runs along the sea line. The middle section of the Boulevard is occupied by the semi-circular square with the monument to A.E. Richelieu in the center. The buildings of the stock exchange and the Vorontsov Palace terminate the Boulevard on each end to form an integral balanced whole. The architectural rhythm of Primorsky Boulevard, enhanced by horizontal terraces, is interrupted by the vertical line of the grandiose Stairs terraces, interrupted by the vertical line of the grandiose Stairs, which were given the name of Potemkin.

Odesa has preserved its inimitable architectural aspect through the decades. It was precisely in the latter half of the 19th century that a number of the significant monuments of architecture, including the Theatre of Opera and Ballet, the buildings of the New Stock Exchange, pawnshop, and public library were erected.

The best representatives of a new generation of architects designed projects that proved most effective and at the same time, the architects took into account the characteristic traits of the southern town.

Many buildings in Odesa were built of shell-limestone, which seemed to be saturated with hot sunshine. The shell limestone was simultaneously extracted from different deposits, which resulted in the formation of an entire labyrinth of underground galleries.

During World War II, Odesa partisans operated from these underground passages, which were inaccessible to the fascists. It is long ago that guns ceased thundering, gun smoke dissipated and the trenches grew with grass... Odesa land has held sacred the memory of those who, at the cost of their lives, upheld the freedom of the country...

The city has preserved the memory of Pushkin, who, when young, strolled along the newly laid-out alleys of Primorsky Boulevard. These streets were trodden by Yu. Olesha, V. Katayev, I. Babel, S. Kirsanov, I. Ilf, Ye. Petrov, K. Paustovsky and E. Bagritsky as well.

It is only natural that today, laconic forms of modern architecture, new materials, and a large scale of housing construction have considerably altered the city skyline. New all-embracing projects have been adopted and completed. The development of the city architecture continues...

Suvorov Memorial

Memorial erected on the site of a bastion of the earthen fortress, the grounds of the present-day stadium were once the site of a fortress surrounded by an earthen rampart. It was built in 1793 to the plan elaborated by the engineer F. Devollan and approved by A. Suvorov, who at that time was entrusted with the defense of Southern Russia. In 1891, one of the fortress bastions was replaced by a granite column to the design of the architect N. Barinov. It was reconstructed in 1978 and a memorial plaque was attached featuring a bas-relief representation of A. Suvorov, the great Russian military commander.

Monument to the Governor Vorontsov

A bronze statue of M.S. Vorontsov stands on a high pedestal of Crimean diorite in the formerly named “Soviet Army Square”. This monument to the governor-general of the Novorossiysk Territory was erected in 1863. The authors of this monument are sculptor F. Brugger from Munich and architect F. Boffod from Odesa.

The Potemkin Stairs

The Potemkin Stairs are a formal entrance into the city from the direction of the sea. Sure, each city has it own place of most pronounced originality. For Odesa, no doubt, it would be the Potemkin Stairs.

The stairs leading from Primorsky Boulevard down to the sea were constructed from 1837 through 1841 to the design of the architect F. Bofford. This imposing monument number 192 stairs arranged in ten flights and flanked by two-meter thick parapets.

The difference in width between the highest (13.4 m) and the lowest (21.6 m) flights produces an optical illusion that enhances the grandeur of the structure. Originally, the stairs were faced with grey Trieste sandstone. With time, however, the sandstone weathered and was replaced with granite.

The famous Potemkin Stairs serve as a symbol of the city. It has recently been complemented with a ramp over bridge to extend as far as the Novy Pier, where a dated “modern structure” seaport is located on a high platform. Memorial plagues state that it was on precisely this spot that the first Odesa buildings were founded in 1794.

The Maxim Gorky State Scientific Library

In 1830, a public library, the second in Russia, (the first was in Petersburg) was set up in Odesa. The premises for the library was specially designed by the architect F. Nesturkh and built in 1904-1906.

The building is characterized by a clear-cut and functional design. The architectural elements derived from antique architecture - caryatides over the cornice, a portico, and ornamental profiles - were extensively used in the building architecture. The library fund, founded in 1829, includes more than 4 million volumes, including an original collection of 2,000 manuscripts and 7,000 of rare editions, which are ancient literature monuments (X - XI centuries), first printed editions samples, Peter the Great period's books, Divina Comedia of XIX century's edition, and others.