5 tips for Odessa

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In the south of the country there is Ukraine Mediterranean. The port city of Odessa is a real pearl on the Black Sea. Multi-ethnic mix and tsarist splendor, world politics and the Orient, bloody wars and glorious Black Sea fleet and spicy sea air. An extremely invigorating mix.

Whoever wants to understand the Odessites with their peculiarities to some extent, must have lived with them in this city. Geographically and politically, the city belongs to Ukraine, but as far as the mentality of its inhabitants is concerned, this does not seem to fit. In Odessa, life pulsates in a special, mostly extraordinary, almost whimsical way.  The chessboard-shaped center with boulevards, avenues and mysterious backyards tempts you to wander around. Beaches, sun and the mild climate make life here easier.

The history of the city began in ancient times, but the great progress came only in the 18th century. Tsarina Catherine the Great had Odessa built in 1794, because she needed a Black Sea port for her huge empire. Our governor Armand de Richelieu flourished the city.

After war, revolution and civil war, the rise was stopped, the “golden century” was over. Today Odessa has about 1 million inhabitants. The port is with the seaport in the south bordering Illichivsk the largest trading center of Ukraine, with oil and container terminal, yacht and passenger port.

Tip 1: Potemkin Stairs

About 30 meters is the height difference between the center and the port of the Ukrainian city of Odessa. In order to create a representative connection, this 142-meter-long staircase was built between 1837 and 1841, for which tons of sandstone were imported from Trieste. Every twentieth of its 192 steps is followed by a large landing.

Potemkin stairs in Odessa, Ukraine
©Sergii Figurnyi/stock.adobe.com

Through this and other tricks, architect Francesco Boffo achieved the perspective effect. From above one sees only the landings, from below only the steps. If you look down from the top, you think the staircase is the same width all the way to the bottom, because it is only 13.4 meters wide at the top, but 21.7 meters wide at the bottom. In the opposite direction of view, it appears much longer and seems to lead directly to the sky – no wonder that the masterpiece immediately became an Odessa landmark. It then became known throughout the world as the backdrop in Sergei Eisenstein’s film Battleship Potemkin in 1925.

Tip 2: Catacombs

With a total length of about 2500 kilometers, the Odessa catacombs are about five times longer than the known catacombs of Paris and thus by far the longest underground tunnel system in the world. Nobody knows exactly how long they are, because to this day there is no complete map of the catacombs. They consist of a huge network of tunnels, drainage channels, cisterns, natural caves and bunkers. Some of them are up to 60 meters deep, others run just below the surface of the city.

Odessa Catacombs
© Albin Marciniak | Dreamstime.com

The history of the Odessa Catacombs is closely linked to the history of the city itself. When Catherine the Great commissioned the city and military port at the end of the 18th century, the area had shortly before been conquered by the Ottoman Empire. There was only one problem: there were almost no building materials available. So they had to go underground and get the building materials there. The limestone quickly proved to be robust enough to construct buildings from. Work began under Duke Armand du Plessis, who administered the city from 1803. Piece by piece, digging continued and a labyrinth of shafts soon emerged that could no longer be surveyed.

Later, the catacombs served as a hiding place for criminals and gangsters. In the 2nd World War they were in military use and also afterwards the military built bunkers.

Today, the Odessa Catacombs are used for different purposes. The majority of the labyrinth has fallen into slumber. Parts are used as a museum, others as a garbage dump. Still others are flooded and accessible only to divers. There are also underground bars here.

Tip 3: Opera

Odessa Opera House is one of the architectural highlights of the city. The theater was built in 1887 according to the designs of Viennese architects Ferdinand Fellner and Hermann Helmer. On the same site stood an older theater building since 1809, which was destroyed by fire in 1873.

Odessa Opera
© Sergii Figurnyi | Dreamstime.com

The construction of the new opera house began on 28.09.1884 and proved to be an architectural masterpiece. The exterior facade of the building was designed primarily in the Baroque style, but with many Renaissance elements. The ground plan of the building is horseshoe-shaped. The building has 20 entrances and an additional 3 personal entrances. Above the entrances are enthroned figures of ancient mythology, so above the main entrance Melpomene, Terpsichore and Orpheus.

The auditorium impresses with its imposing design of galleries and tiers.

On the ceiling of the auditorium you can see painted scenes from W. Shakespeare’s: “Hamlet”, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, “A Winter’s Tale”, “What You Will”. The central candelabra alone weighs about 2.5 tons.

In 1926 the opera house was again devastated by fire. In 1967 the opera house underwent a comprehensive reconstruction.

10 kg of gold leaf were used to decorate the interiors. Many prestigious artists of the 19th and 20th centuries gave guest performances in Odessa.

The Opera House is proud of its ballet ensemble. The ensemble has close contacts with the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow. Solo and group ensembles perform together at domestic and foreign guest performances.

Tip 4: Transfiguration Cathedral

The founder of Odessa, Tsarina Catherine the Great had ordered the construction of this church. The construction began in 1795 and was completed after 1827 after some delays. Through reconstructions and extensions in the 19th century gradually grew one of the largest Orthodox cathedrals with a capacity of 9000 people.

After the revolution the cathedral was looted in 1919 and closed in 1932. In 1936 Joseph Stalin ordered its destruction: it was blown up in one night.

Transfiguration Cathedral in Odessa
© Evgeniy Fesenko | Dreamstime.com

During World War 2, under Romanian rule, there were initial thoughts of reconstruction, which began in 1999. In 2010 the new building was consecrated.

The Transfiguration Cathedral is one of the most notable examples of the so-called rebirth of religious buildings after planned destruction and decades of Soviet rule.

Tip 5: Primorsky Boulevard

The grand boulevard runs parallel to the shoreline and is considered one of the most beautiful streets in Odessa. Numerous magnificent buildings adorn the tree-lined, largely car-free boulevard.

night view of Primorsky boulevard in Odessa city, Ukraine. Beautiful city Park and street illumination, walking people

The street begins at the former residence of Count Voroncov (1782-1856), one of the most beautiful classicist buildings in the city, passes the top of the Potemkin Stairs and the classicist Londonskaya Hotel, and ends at the Pushkin Monument, which stands opposite the seat of the city government.