These words belong to a Russian journalist of the 19th century. Really it was something like a miracle: only a few years passed after Odessa was officially founded, and in place of a tumbledown Turkish fort appeared a great seaport with sea fronts and boulevards, monuments and palaces, and even with a marvelous theater – that is to say quite an “adult” city. However, it’s unlikely that Odessa had no childhood and youth…
During a short walk through Odessa we’ll be able to become acquainted only with the most famous places of the city. Odessa was and remains a city of his/her own: for Pushkin and Mickiewicz, Mark Twain, Bunin and Kuprin, Paustovsky and Olesha, Ilf and Petrov, Mayakovsky, Katayev, Babel… And for many other outstanding people who left part of their heart here. Some of them stayed in Odessa for many years, others, for several vivid months, and still others just for a few unforgettable days.
It is enough to read what they wrote about Odessa to understand and feel their love for this unusual city, a city-phenomenon. One of the definitions of the word “phenomenon” means an extremely unusual or extraordinary thing. Odessa may serve as an example.
The secret of Odessa’s unique charm could be divided into certain materialistic components. Picturesque nature? Of course… Unique multi-national culture? No doubt… The list could be continued without end. However, all this cannot explain the secret of Odessa. Odessa is Odessa.
How old is the city? Lately disputes about the age of Odessa have become rather frequent: say, who and when laid the first stones of the future “pearl of the Black Sea?” Were they the generals of Catherine II, the Black Sea Cossacks, or the Turks? To consider this problem thoroughly, it can be stated with certainty that the date when people first settled in this terrain is much older, and not for several centuries but for millenniums. In the outskirts of the city, near Kuyalnyk estuary, archaeologists discovered an ancient settlement of paleolithic hunters. They chased after the cave bear that were many during the glacial period. Later another settlement was found in the vicinity of Khadzhibeiy estuary. Its inhabitants lived at the expense of the bison. Thousands of years later settled cattle-breeders and plowmen came in their place. Not only Trypillia civilization, but also other ancient cultures less known to the general public, left their trace in present-day Odessa oblast. But now we pass to nearer times.
1st millennium B.C. At the beginning of the first millennium B.C. this territory was under the rule of the Cimmerians – a mysterious and scantily known nomad empire that once stretched from the Balkans to Mesopotamia. Later they were driven out of modern southern Ukraine by the Scythians who stayed here for ensuing several centuries. 5th century B.C. The ancient Greeks appeared on the Black Sea coast. They contented themselves with small trade settlements. Early Christianera. The territories neighboring present-day Odessa became part of the Roman imperial province Lower Mesia.
3rd cent. Numerous Gothic hordes appeared in the Black Sea maritime regions. Before long the Asian Huns ousted the German Goths. Then, for a short time, this land was under the rule of the Bulgarians, to put it more precisely, the proto-Bulgarians.
9th cent. The settled Slavs, the nomadic Pechenegs, and later the Polovtsians inhabited this land, and coexisted quite peacefully.
12th cent. The rule of the Galicia-Volhynian principality became firmly established (at that time it was a great feudal empire). In 1237 the Mongols burst into the maritime steppes.
In the mid-14th century this land, as well as most of the former Rus state, became part of the grand duchy of Lithuania. According to a Polish chronicle in 1415, by order of the Lithuanian grand duke Witowt a fortress and seaport (and later a lighthouse) were founded in place of present-day Odessa under the name of Kachybeiv, a name having nothing to do with the Lithuanian or Slavic languages. The toponym, most likely, was derived from the Turkic languages, which was quite natural for those times and terrains. However, it would be more justly to start Odessa’s history from 1415.
About 1480. The Turkish landing party seized the Black Sea coast. Kachybeiv became the Osman fortress under the name of Khadzhibey…
In the mid-18th century powerful and militant Russia under Catherine II became frankly interested in the Black Sea maritime regions.
In 1769 broke out the Russian-Turkish war. The Zaporozhian Cossacks fought on Russia’s side, they attacked Khadzhibey two times, and the Russian standard was hoisted over the fortress for the first time in 1774. With time a settlement appeared near Khadzhibey that was populated by the Turks, Tatars, Ukrainians, Russians, Greeks, Jews, Moldavians, Albanians, and Karaites.
On September 14, 1789, during the next Russian-Turkish war, Russian detachment and the Black Sea Cossacks (Zaporozhian Sich had been liquidated by that time) took Khadzhibey by assault. Major-General Josef de Ribas, hero of numerous battles and campaigns, and his comrades-in-arms, the Cossack chieftains Holovatyi and Chepiha, commanded the operation.
In 1795 by order of Catherine II a city was founded in place of Khadzhibey. Modern encyclopedias designate this date, though the sources of those times provide another date, stating even the day: August 22, 1974. It was the time when the Metropolitan of Katerynoslav and Novorosiysk, Gabriel, consecrated the beginning of construction, and the foundation of the main objects was laid. However, the name of Odessa was really given to the city in 1795. According to the most popular saying it was proposed by the city’s founder, de Ribas. According to other information it was made by the Metropolitan Gabriel, a Greek by birth, who named it in honor of the ancient Greek colony Odissos that had existed somewhere around here.
Early 19th cent. A few years after its official foundation Odessa turned into a big, rich and flourishing city, which was often called “Black Sea Babylon” not only because of its motley ethnic make-up of population, but also due to the unigue symbiosis of cultures and traditions of different peoples that created Odessa.
It was a special epoch that needed special heroes. A young artillery lieutenant could turn into an all-powerful emperor within a few years, beggars became princes, an princes, beggars. The Russian Admiral (also general) de Ribas, a semi-Spaniard, semi-Irishman born in Naples, and his friend,
the Dutch architect de Wolan, supervised the construction of the city and harbor. However, Odessa became a miracle-city, which in 1810 was compared with Paris, under the town governor, duke de Richelieu, the grand-great-grandson of the famous cardinal of the 17th century. Wide beautiful streets, an irreproachable planning of the city’s center, a wonderful opera house, street lighting – all those innovations for the time created the image of the “Black Sea Pearl.”
19th-early 20th cent. The city was incessantly developing and flourishing, which was promoted by the fact that Odessa obtained numerous privileges from the government. So it was not without reason that it was considered the third city and the trade capital of the empire.
1917. The life of “Southern Palmyra” changed. In the course of the Civil War the city passed through many hands; for some time the frontier between the Ukrainian People’s Republic and Denikin’s Russia ran through the center of the city. It was the time when British and French dreadnoughts smoked in the roads of Odessa, and the international Allies’ landing party occupied the city. After all these turbulent events Odessa became a Soviet city and lost all of its previous privileges… Naturally the verily Odessa bourgeois initiative had to дб underground, though the city remained not only the main harbor of the Black Sea, but also an important economic, scientific and cultural center. World War II added Odessa more glory making it a hero-city for its heroic defense against the Nazi and Romanian invaders, and for its partisan epopee, when great catacombs in the vicinity of Odessa became a real underground partisan town. After the war Odessa was a rather peculiar city – an interesting and stylish film “Liquidation” shot lately vividly reflects those years.
Primorsky (Maritime) Boulevard. It was built over a sea precipice in a surprisingly picturesque place.
The city council was located exactly here in a structure of the 19 th century (1829-1834) adorned with statues and stuccowork, and built for the first Odessa exchange. Near to the building stands the elegant bust of Aleksandr Pushkin. During his “southern exile” in Odessa (1823-1824) the great poet created many works (in particular started “Eugene Onegin”), had a good time, and fell in love to distraction… One of the numerous Odessa legends is devoted to the huge century-old platan that grows beside the bust: they say Pushkin himself planted the tree.
A little farther there is another “monument”- a cannon from the “Tiger.” During the Crimean War an Anglo-French squadron approached Odessa and began to fire on the city. Fortunately, ruins proved not too serious. All of a sudden the British frigate “Tiger” ran aground, and the allied squadron sailed away. After the war a big cannon was taken from the “Tiger” and adorned Primorsky Boulevard as a trophy.
Present-day “London” Hotel, the Seaman’s Palace of Culture and certainly the world-famous Potiomkin stairs built in 1837 are perhaps the most beautiful old structures in the boulevard. Both from the top and the bottom of the stairs open up wonderful cityscapes and marines – this is a favorite place for a walk, particularly for Odessa’s guests. Today it seems strange that the contemporaries of their construction called it “an expensive and imbecile toy”… Though Parisians first said exactly the same about their Eiffel Tower…
Vorontsov’s Palace, situated over the sea precipice, is also an adornment of Primorsky Boulevard. Its snow-white colonnade is a favorite place for newly-weds to be photographed.
The monument to duke de Richelieu in Primorsky Boulevard was inaugurated in 1828. The monument looks like an ordinary monument made in classic traditions, a figure in toga and a wreath of a Roman patrician… However, this monument became almost a pi image for Odessa residents.
The bronze hero of many songs, humorous sayings, and even literary works became an integral part of Odessa, one of its symbols. The reason why it happened may be in a happy choice of its location – the bronze duke seems to be welcoming the ships entering the harbor. Or may be it was because the Duke was and remains to be extremely popular in Odessa.
Armand Emanuel Sophi Septimani du Plessis Richelieu, an offspring of one of the most honorable families of French kingdom, was not a fugitive from the revolution. The young aristocrat, in search of adventures, set out for a job in Russia long before the Bastille Day. In Russia he showed himself in the best way – as a brave soldier, a talented organizer, a leader by divine mercy. In 1803 he became the governor of Odessa. His intellect, energy, influence and connections he devoted to the city. Under Richelieu Odessa acquired the charm that cannot be logically explained by anyone.
According to contemporaries, in 1814, when Richelieu left Odessa, citizens unharnessed his four-in-hand and pulled the coach all the way to the frontier post. The well-directed play was not toadying, for everybody knew that Duke would never return: his new position in his native France was that of prime minister – Ludwig XVIII invited Richelieu for the post in person…
Today, as before the revolution, this street, with its banks, expensive shops, and magnificent restaurants, is one of the most respectable in Odessa. Here lived the well-known writer Isaac Babel whose creative work was inseparably linked with Odessa, which he knew well and tenderly loved.
At the intersection of Richelieu and Jewish streets stands the Main synagogue, one of the most beautiful Judaic sacral structures in Ukraine.
At the very beginning of Richelieu Street there is a miniature palace. It was built in the early 20 th century in modernist style that was in fashion at that time. In the past it was the bank of the famous Odessa millionaire and Maecenas Zigfrid Ashkenazi. Today it is the city wedding palace. Beside the palace there is a building that before the revolution was called a skyscraper. The stairs of the back entrance lead to the roof of the building from which opens up a marvelous view of the city’s central historical section.
This old street was named in honor of another famous Odessa Frenchman, count Alexander Langeron who headed Odessa after Richelieu’s departure. Three marvelous museums are situated in this street. Archaeological Museum is based in part on the rich collections of the pre-revolutionary “Odessa Society of History and Ancient Articles.” Its exhibition contains not only treasures found in Odessa region, but also an interesting collection of articles of ancient Egypt. The old palace itself, the copy of the antique “Laocoon with his sons” once presented to Odessa and erected near the palace, and the stone images safeguarding the entrance create a single beautiful architectural ensemble.
The Navy Museum, the only one in Ukraine (6 Lanqeron St.), occupies the elegant residence of the former English club (built 1842). In old Odessa the English club was the favorite place for meetings of the local aristocrats. Unfortunately, recently a fire at the museum annihilated many exhibits and documents. At present it is under reconstruction.
Literary Museum is also very interesting (2 Lanqeron St.). Taking into account the fact that many prominent writers visited Odessa, the exposition of this museum enables one to study the history of the city. Strangely enough, but Literary Museum is also safeguarded by stone images. A whole collection of funny monuments is found in the museum’s yard: to Mother-Odessa, to the Jew Rabinovich (a hero of many Odessa anecdotes), and even to the passengers of the “Antelope-Gnu” car together with the car (characters of the famous novel by Ilf and Petrov).
This street intersects Primorsky Boulevard. Another Odessa’s unique zest – the so-called Shah palace – is situated at its corner. This splendid Moresque building was raised in 1852, though it became really popular much later. In 1909, during the first Iranian revolution, the Shah of Iran had to fly from his country to Russia. The august exile bought this palace.
Beside, at the very beginning of Sophiivska St, is located on of the first patrimonial palaces of Odessa. This structure (1805-1810) in style of exquisite classicism was the residence of Odessa representatives of the dynasty of the Polish magnates Potockies. Now it houses Odessa Art Museum (5 a Sophiivska St.). Almost in front of the Shah palace in Gogol Street is situated the “House with Atlantes,” which represents a whole architectural complex consisting of two sumptuous buildings. From the very outset it was not built as a residence of some Maharaja, or a hotel – it was simply a rent house in which wealthy Odessa residents rented apartments before the revolution. In spite of such a prosaic explanation of its origin, the “House with Atlantes” has not lost its outward attractiveness.
During the foundation of the city it was called Italian Street. The name was derived from the fact that at that time the Italians made up the majority of the population here: master-builders, restorers, actors, emigrant-revolutionaries. However, the Orthodox Church of St. Elijah and the so-called Brodsky synagogue (now city archives) are also situated in this street. A real adornment of Pushkin Street is Philharmonic Society. This exquisite Venetian Gothic building was constructed before the revolution for the city exchange, and became Philharmonic Society in Soviet times. According to an Odessa legend the local rich merchants paid extra a good sum of money to the builders of the exchange so that in its hall it was impossible to hear your neighbor staying two meters away from you – nobody wanted to have his deal discussed by the whole Odessa on the next day. In other words it was an ideal premise for the future Philharmonic Society…
Almost in front of Philharmonic Society is located “Krasny” Hotel, once bearing the name of “Bristol”. This splendid neo-baroque structure is very typical of the aesthetic tastes of Odessa beau mondeof the late 19 th century. A.S.Pushkin Literary-Memorial Museum (13 Pushkin St.) is situated nearby. The building is notable for its original and interesting conception with reference to the institutions of this type.
After two buildings further along the street there is the Odessa Museum of Western and Oriental Art (9 Pushkin St.), which is famous for a representative collection of works of art by European masters. Particularly noteworthy is the collection of Dutch painting. A beautiful and extraordinary modern building in 51 Pushkin Street is the rehabilitation center, which from 1996 has been rendering free medical assistance to children-invalids. As a token of respect to its founder, Borys Lytvak, Odessa residents call it “Lytvak’s House.”
Near Pushkin Street, in smaller streets, one can find some more interesting objects: the building in 9 Mala Arnautska once was a real informal center of Jewish culture, and the building in 66 Nizhynska St. is a fully official Jewish center. Here are found a synagogue, which was the first in the USSR to be returned to the Jewish community, and Museum of Jewish history and culture of Odessa.
De Ribas Street
It is the biggest street in Odessa. Picturesque and fine as it is, it must be admitted, however, that many other places in the city are more beautiful and richer concerning architectural masterpieces. Nevertheless, exactly De Ribas Street, or simply Deribasivska, became a symbol of Odessa and the embodiment of its unique charm. Just walk down Deribasivska and you will feel that even in the air there is something very characteristic of Odessa. According to the well-known Jewish writer and public figure, Odessa resident Volodymyr Zhabotynsky, Deribasivska is “the best street in the world.”
Deribasivska is perhaps the most popular place in the unique Odessa folklore, and not only because there are many restaurants and beerhouses here, but due to wonderful old constructions. Tourists are invariably delighted by the neo-baroque Passage richly decorated with stuccowork – one of the first”supermarkets” of the Russian Empire (1899). It became possible perhaps
In Odessa alone when they seated the modeled figure of god of commerce Mercury astride an up-to-date railway engine (modeled as well), the embodiment of progress at that time. It is one of numerous sculptures that adorn the Passage.
Opposite the Passage is located the City garden, which two centuries ago was presented to the city by Felix de Ribas, the brother of Josef. It is the most famous park of Odessa. Today here are the square of Ostap Bender with the monument to his 12 th chair, and the monument to Leonid Utiosov erected in 2000 – the bronze figure of the jazzman is simply sitting on a park bench. There are many monuments in Deribasivska: to Admiral de Ribas (though frankly speaking not all citizens liked this modern monument), to the glorious aviator Sergey Utochkin set right on the balcony of the cinema “Utoch-kino”(“kino”- cinema). In one the typical yards in Deribasivska stands for about a century the bust of doctor Ludwig Zamengof, the inventor of Esperanto, who, to say the truth, never visited Odessa or Deribasivska in particular… So what?
One of the best-known structures in Deribasivska is “Vefykyi Moskovsky” (Great Moscow) Hotel, or the “building with faces” as it is called otherwise. Built in 1910 this imposing structure is really adorned with big mascarones in the form of female and male faces. In Deribasivska is located the building of the former Richelieu Lyceum on the basis of which in the 19 th century was organized university. Today Odessa University has moved to more spacious premises.
Catherine’s Street and Square
The famous Odessa coffeehouse “Fankoni,” to which many writers who glorified Odessa referred in their works, has been standing in this street for more than a century. In its time it was an undistinguished unofficial exchange where “lapetutnyks” “burzhennyks” and “peopleofthe wind” closed small deals. You won’t find these words anywhere but Odessa. Though there existed a more general term for them -“exchange rabbits.” In general the coffeehouse was not notable for bourgeois virtuousness.
The most beautiful structure in Catherine’s St. (although its facade is facing the neighboring Sabaniv bridge street) is certainly the House of Scientists. The exquisite palace was built in 1896-1897 after the design of the Viennese architects Felner and Gelmer. In contrast to many wonderful structures of the then Odessa, its magnificent interiors have remained practically intact.
As regards Catherine’s Square, perhaps the best in the city, it has recently become an arena of the “war of monuments.” The history of the square somehow did not turn out. First, at the very outset of Odessa, the construction of the Church of St. Catherine was started here. But for lack of money construction work was stopped and the church dismantled. In was only in 1900 that a rather pompous monument was built to the empress Catherine II as an official founder of Odessa. Her statue was surrounded by the statues of Potiomkin, Zubov, de Ribas and de Wolan – the persons who were related, each one in his own way, to the early history of Odessa. The Bolsheviks, naturally, pulled down the monument to tsarina and company; they even built a railway for a locomotive to bring the hateful monument down and tug it away. Much later in the same place appeared the monument to sailors from the mutinous battleship “Potiomkin.”
In our days it was decided to restore status quo: this time the sailors were dragged away as far as possible from the center, and the restored Catherine with her retinue was brought back to the old place. This recent story was accompanied with a serious scandal – political forces argued about the expedience of restoring the monument to the empress on account of her unattractive role in the history of Ukraine. Meanwhile the restored monument was placed in the old place…
However, lets leave all their arguments for politicians and bell ringers. The point is that many people have become bored with all this wars of iron and bronze images since Soviet times. It smells of a sort of pathology…
It can be seen from Pushkin and Catherine’s streets. Odessa has a great number of wonderful structures, but the Opera House, without doubt, is the best known and the most beautiful of them. It was and is considered one of the best theatrical constructions in the world. Among the stars who performed here were Shaliapin, Sobinov, Sara Bernard, Eleonor Douze, Maria Zankovetska, Anna Pavlova, Maya Plisetskaya…
Citizens of Odessa are great admirers of theatrical art. The first city theater appeared in young Odessa in 1809, and exactly in this place. Even at that time it was the pride of the citizens, the best drama and opera companies of Europe performed here. A traveler of the 19 th century maintained that the Ukrainian chumaks (steppe waggoners) in Odessa were singing Donizetti’s “La donna e mobile.” However, at night in January 1873 the theater burnt to the ground.
The construction of a new, more beautiful temple of art was a point of honor for Odessa. Forty three projects took part in the international competition. The project of the famous duet at that time, the Viennese architects F. Felner and G.Gelmer, the acknowledged masters of building theatrical structures, came out the winner. They were the authors of many theaters in Europe, among them the famous Viennese Opera House, and in Ukraine, of the exquisite Chernivtsi Opera House (at that time, under kaiser, Chernivtsi was the capital of the autonomous Grand duchy of Bukovyna that was part of Austro-Hungary). In 1887, three years after the construction was started, the building of Odessa Opera House was completed – to the contemporaries’ surprise and delight.
First feeling that Odessa Opera House arouses – both by its outward appearance and interiors – is its joyous lightness, and even a sort of frivolity. For all that, its stalls, three circles and boxes can seat one and a half thousand, and its chandelier of bronze and crystal weighs about a metric ton. Its splendid interior decoration combines sculptures and paintings on antique themes with subjects from Shakespeare’s works. Bronze, crystal, marble, velvet and gilding create festive mood.
Wars spared this architectural miracle, but not time. In the late 1980s the theater faced a real threat of ruination. The restoration that started in the not simple 1990 s lasted for a long time with great difficulties. Money was not enough whereas there was a need in tens and tens of millions. At last, in 2007 Odessa Opera House again opened its doors for the public. The city celebrated this event like a real holiday.
Among many legendary places without which Odessa is impossible, are not only its streets, parks monuments and theaters. It is equally impossible without Privoz (obs market place). In the city whose fate was closely linked with trade from the first days of its existence, small bazaars, bazaars and markets were always an inseparable part of its life. Today the modern “7 th kilometer” represents a cyclopic city-market with its numerous big and small shops, which cannot but impress any guest of Odessa. However, the old Privoz remains to be something special: not without reason did Odessa writers describe it with a special taste.
A market in Privozna Square appeared as long ago as the 19 th century, but its specific outlook it began to acquire after 1913, when the so-called Fruit passage was built here – four two-storied brick buildings were joined with ceilings. They became surrounded right away with booths, hawker’s stands, great benches on which goods were displayed, shops, where one could buy, naturally, not only fruits. A tour to the fish market could be compared with an excursion to an ichthyological museum.
Civilization, unfortunately, mutilated Privoz to a large extent, in particular the legendary fish market, which became poor in the wake of the sea itself. However, the enchanting-noisy and a little joking atmosphere of Privoz meanwhile exists, so don’t use the opportunity to take pleasure in it. And the last piece of advice: take care of you pockets and bags – pickpockets here are quite enough today as well. Privoz is Privoz, and the age-old traditions continue to live.