History of Odessa

Odessa is constantly expanding, and new high storey buildings and malls are appearing in it. It looks young and modern. However, once you walk in the centre, in Moldavanka, you will notice the “wrinkles” of its architecture and whispers of its old corners sharing old Odessa stories. You will be surprised, how deep and ancient its roots are!

Odessa to Odessa

An alluring area of the Black Sea shore attracted many people even before the famous Ukrainian city was founded. The Northern Black Sea shore was famous with Greek tribes. When the Roman emperor Adrian ordered to explore this land in the II century A.D., an Istrian ship harbour was discovered there. Archeologists found amphoras, vases and dish wares of those times.

It seems strange, however, Odessa was just a port. It was controlled by Olvia (Parutnino village now) which was more developed at that time. After some decay in the 3rd -4th centuries, the Odessa bay became popular in 8th -10th centuries again with ancient Slavic tribes settling there.

From the middle of the 17th century, the Odessa area belonged to the Grand Dutchy of Lithuania. Some historians consider that the name of the port Kotsubeyev is associated with Hacibey after the region was conquered by the Ottoman Empire.

Turks founded the fortress Yeni Dunya not far from Hacibey in 1765. It is situated in the modern centre of Odessa between the Vorontsov palace and the Potemkin stairs.

The Russian-Turkish war gave a new historical spin to the city and Yeni Dunya attracted Suvorov passing to Bendery. The fortress fell under the attack commanded by General Gudovich, ataman Golovatiy and Earl de Ribas who became a cultic figure for Odessa.

Appearing of the pearl at the sea

The Black Sea coast was given to Russia after the Russian-Turkish war. Catherine the Great paid attention to the favourable geographical position of Hacibey and ordered to build a military harbour and a merchant port there.

There is a legend that when Catherine the Great was considering a name for the fortress, she was offered to name it Odessos after the ancient Greek settlement on the Black Sea shore. The empress liked the idea, yet decided to change it into a female name, making it Odessa.

The city rapidly developed and expanded, and from 1805 it became the centre of Novorossia for 70 years.

Prominent People of Odessa

Odessa was lucky to have talented governors from the very beginning. The local people do remember de Ribas, Richelieu, Vorontsov who did their best to contribute to the benefit of the city.

Jose de Ribas

The Spanish aristocrat and the Russian Admiral Jose de Ribas is rightly considered to be the father-founder of the city. No wonder that the main street is named after him, it is Deribasovskaya! He took part in the Russian-Turkish war and then he was appointed “Governor of the future harbour”. To persuade people to relocate to Odessa, Joseph de Ribas, as he named himself, ordered to free them from taxes for 10 years.

People began to settle in the fortress and the new governor implemented the plans of building the new city with first stone houses and developing crafts, trades, and navigation. The city expanded quickly but he was summoned to St Petersburg after Catherine died. He never saw his cherished Odessa after that but Odessites respect his memory ever since.

Duke de Richelieu

The monument to Governor Duke de Richelieu or Duke for short has become the visit card of Odessa. Duke de Richelieu was born in a famous European family. He was bright, kind, strict and ready to make decisions. He brought the ideas of free trade, manufacture, agriculture, independence from the bureaucratic apparatus. Odessa rapidly developed governed by him. The number of foreign vessels calling at the port increased in 6.5 times in two years! All people building houses in Odessa were to plant trees. A green oasis appeared in the steppe. De Richelieu ordered fruit tree stalks in which Odessa is rich now.

Mikhail Vorontsov

The governing of the educated and brave officer from 1825 till 1856 is called the “golden age” of Odessa.

When he was a governor, streets were paved, the architecture ensembles were created, and schools, institutes, and the public library were opened. Educated in Europe, Vorontsov dreamt to turn Odessa into a port able to compete with French and Italian cities. He succeeded in that quite a lot.

Odessa in the 19th century: from decay to flourishing

The first decades of the city were not easy. The port was forgotten by Paul I trying to destroy everything that his mother did, plaque epidemics spread in the city for several times, with Mount Chumka (Plague Mount) on the cemetery reminding of those who died from the decease. The city was quite damaged during the Crimean war in 1853-1856 as well.

Yet Odessa became the most important city of the Russian empire on the Black Sea coast known as Southern Palmira, with St Petersburg being Northern Palmira.

Odessa obtained porto franco in 1817, the status of a free city which could import and store goods duty free.  The system existed over 40 years and Odessa turned into the biggest port of the empire at the Black Sea.

The city began to develop even more rapidly in the second half of the century. The railway connected Odessa with Kiev and all-Russian networks, the discovering of the Suetsky channel opened a new trade way to Asia. The number of rich people in the city increased and they wanted to live a European way of life. The Passage, the University, and the Odessa Opera theatre appeared at that time. The water pipeline and sewerage system, the first in the Russian empire were opened in 1870ies.

The 20th century in the history of Odessa

The Revolution in 1917 and the Civil war ruined Odessa quite a lot. Its infrastructure was destroyed, its enterprises and port did not work. Finally, peace was restored again in 1920 and Odessa became the centre of the Odessa province and later the Odessa region.

More than 30 enterprises were built in the 20-30ies. The port expanded, machine building rapidly developed. Trade became of minor importance. About 600 thousand people lived in Odessa by 1940.

Its peaceful life was broken on June 22nd, 1941. The city was bombarded from the first days of the war. After Odessa was surrendered in September 1941, 20 thousand local people went to the catacombs. The partisan movement in the steppe Odessa is unforgettable. It was given the title “Hero city” after that.

Odessa was completely restored after the war, and new districts appeared. It turned into a huge megapolis with a million population, big enterprises and port constructions expanding for many kilometers.

Refreshed and full of energy

At present, Odessa amazingly combines the old architecture and modern buildings, green boulevards and the warm sea. Odessites remember the past yet they confidently face the future. The beautiful city by the sea is constantly developing and growing. It opens its streets and squares, its history, the past and the future.

Welcome to Odessa! You will see with your own eyes, that the city which celebrated its 200th anniversary not so long ago, becomes even brighter, younger, more interesting and attractive with every year! You are so welcome!


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