The legendary 192-step staircase connects downtown Odessa with the port and is the city’s landmark.
It climbs 30 meters in 142 meters. It was built from 1837 to 1841 and represents an architectural masterpiece. An optical illusion is created by the steps, which get wider and wider from top to bottom, the top one measuring 12.5 meters in width and the bottom one 21.6 meters. Viewed from above, the staircase appears to be the same width over its entire length, while viewed from below, it looks longer than it actually is. In addition, 10 landings are placed between the steps along the entire length of the staircase in such a way that only the landings and not the steps are visible from above, and only the steps and not the landings are visible from below.
The staircase became internationally famous for its appearance in Sergei Eisenstein’s silent film classic „Battleship Potemkin“.
In a pivotal scene in the film, a baby carriage rolls down the steps almost in slow motion. This scene has since been quoted in numerous films. The staircase was given its current name only in 1950 on the 50th anniversary of the mutiny on the battleship Potemkin. Before that it was known as the Richelieu or Boulevard Stairs.
There is also the cannon of the English ship „Tigris“, which sank in the Crimean War.
Ukraine – Odessa in identity crisis
By Cornelius Wüllenkemper | 28.02.2016
A Sunday afternoon in Odessa, in the city garden not far from the main shopping street Deribasovskaya. Young and old, poor and rich are dancing in front of a bandstand. An attractive woman, barely twenty years old, is being led by an older gentleman in a thoroughly golden suit – and both are smiling happily. The autumn sun shines warmly, along with a light breeze from the sea. The old Odessa seems to be resurrected here for a moment.
Odessa, the metropolis of millions on the Black Sea, is in a permanent crisis due to the Ukrainian civil war.
What role does the city’s history play in a country whose search for itself ended in civil war?
The idea of the new city – the „nowa rosja“, the new Russia, admittedly had nothing to do with what Vladimir Putin understood by it 220 years later. Odessa was considered the „Riviera“ of the tsarist and later the Soviet empire, a pretty coastal city, liberal, multi-cultural, with wide streets and picturesque houses in a southern climate. Quickly, not only free thinkers and opposition figures from the strict tsarist empire settled there, but also adventurers, entrepreneurs and craftsmen from all over Europe.
„Catherine the Great granted newcomers a whole series of privileges: tax exemption, for example, exemption from military service, and the settlers were also granted land. As a result, more and more foreigners came to the city. From the very beginning, Odessa thus emerged as a multi-cultural, multi-national city, in an extremely liberal spirit. There was no serfdom here as in the rest of the tsarist empire, and one could even live in the city without papers. That’s also one reason why the city attracted people from different social classes.“
Odessa’s opera house is a pearl
Today, Odessa’s architecture in particular bears witness to the city’s heyday as a mild, southern cultural metropolis of the tsarist empire. The chic clubhouses of the old bourgeoisie, the philharmonic hall, which was supposed to become a stock exchange, the monument to Catherine the Great, which was restored from the melted-down statue of Lenin after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Only a few meters away from the picturesque Catherine Square, one comes across the real architectural pearl of Odessa: the Opera House.
Standing in front of the facade of the three-story round building, one is overwhelmed by a historicism between neo-baroque and renaissance. To this day, the building by two Viennese architects from 1883 is considered one of the most beautiful opera houses in the world, with the best acoustics. Two splendid staircases lead to the great hall, where pure luxury reigns. The huge chandelier on the round ceiling alone weighs more than two tons. The city of Odessa has paid a lot for its most important sight: after a costly renovation, the entire opera house was recently underpinned with 2,000 supporting pillars. Situated on the upper edge of the steep slope to the harbor, it was in danger of sliding into the sandy subsoil.
„Mark Twain also stayed at the Londonskaya during his trip around the world. He wrote an essay at the time comparing Odessa to the U.S.: „At last I feel at home. The same atmosphere, people sitting in the café reading the newspaper.“ Odessa, after all, has a similar layout to New York, and at that time it was the city of freedom and unlimited opportunities; anyone could get rich here. Just like in America.“