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Odesa in Ukraine is one of Eastern Europe’s best-hidden secrets. It’s a stunning port city located on the Black Sea coast in Southern Ukraine. The city is best known for its proximity to sandy beaches, alongside its rich history and stunning Mediterranean-style architecture. It’s a great place to visit if you want to see something other than the country’s capital of Kiev. From bloody revolution, through to one of the continent’s best opera houses, here are 10 things you didn’t know about Odesa, Ukraine.
In 1905 the Russian Empire was rocked by revolutions in several destinations, and Odesa was home to a worker’s uprising that ended in bloodshed. The uprising was supported by the crew on the Russian battleship Potemkin and the city’s workers took to the streets to revolt against their impoverished working and living conditions. This lead to a massacre whereby Russian soldiers murdered hundreds of Odesean citizens on the city’s streets.
2. Potemkin Stairs
If you’ve ever studied Russian cinema, you’ll have heard of the film Battleship Potemkin. Odesa is home to the grand Potemkin Stairs, which were immortalized in Sergei Eisenstein’s 1925 black and white Battleship Potemkin silent film, where revolutionary sailors revolt against the shipmasters and the unfair working conditions. The picturesque steps, of which there are 192, lead down to the waterfront where you can see the famous Vorontsov Lighthouse. The stairs are 465 feet in length, and they were purposefully created to give the illusion that they are a lot longer than they really are. They are the most well-known symbol of the city of Odesa and an absolute must-visit when in town.
3. Odesa Opera
If you’re going to visit Odesa, why not take a trip to its world-class opera? You can catch stunning ballet and opera shows in one of Europe’s most historic opera houses. The first Odesa Opera house was constructed in 1810, however, it was destroyed by fire in the late 19th century. It has since been rebuilt and oozes elegance and grandeur. For many citizens, a trip to the opera is an important part of Ukrainian culture. When the country was under the rule of the Soviet Union, the arts were made public, and it was affordable and easy for most people in society to go to the opera at least once in their lives.
The opera house’s auditorium features a French baroque interior and it’s visually stunning. You can have a drink before you catch a performance and soak in the atmosphere. Some of its annual performance include the likes of The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, Carmen, and Sleeping Beauty. It’s often sold out so book your seats with plenty of time in advance.
4. Mediterranean Architecture
The city’s architecture features a more Mediterranean style, with heavy French and Italian influences. You can see buildings in architectural styles such as Art Nouveau and Renaissance. It’s a beautiful city to stroll around on foot.
5. World War Two
Odesa was attacked by German and Romanian troops in August 1941. A strong defense was mounted, which lasted close to three months before the city fell into the hands of the Romanian and German troops. Following the city’s fall, Romanian officials were mainly in charge of Odesa until the end of the Second World War. One of the world’s most famous female snipers Lyudmila Pavlichenko famously took part in the defense of the city. Pavlichenko was a Soviet sniper who killed over 300 enemies and she’s known as the most successful female sniper of all time.
6. Holocaust: Odesa Massacre
Tragically during World War Two, the city witnessed a massacre of its Jewish population in the years 1941 and 1942. In October 1941 alone, between 25,000 and 34,000 Jews were killed by Romanian and German collaborators of the Nazi regime. The tragic history is remembered today at the Memorial site in Prokhorovsky square, which was built to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust. You can also visit the Holocaust Museum of Odesa to find out more about what happened in the city during World War Two and remember its many victims.
7. Catherine the Great
Catherine the Great, one of Russia’s most well-known Tsarinas, or Empresses, was one of the main founders of the port and city of Odesa, which, at the time, belonged to the Russian Empire. The town was declared a free port in the 19th century, meaning there was a booming trade industry, and the city rapidly became the fourth largest city in the Russian Empire. There’s a monument in the memory of Catherine the Great, alongside a commemoration of the city’s other founders.
8. Ukranian Independence
Ukraine officially declared itself an independent state in 1991, breaking away from the communist Soviet Union, which collapsed in the same year. While it’s an independent country, there are millions of Russians living in Ukraine, and there are many cultural similarities, alongside distinct differences between the cultures. Russian is the native language of close to a third of Ukrainian society.
9. Ancient Greeks to the Soviets
Before the Russian Empire established Odesa officially, there was a port town dating back as far as the Ancient Greek era. The city was the site of a large Ancient Greek settlement in the 3rd century BC. It’s likely the city was used as a port trade town under the Ancient Greek Empire.
The town also passed through the hands of the Ottoman Empire over the centuries before falling into the hands of the Russian and Soviet empires in more recent centuries. Odesa was used as a naval base by the Soviets for decades before the Soviet Union’s collapse.
10. Sandy Beaches
The city is close to some of Ukraine’s best beaches and it’s a great place to visit for a vacation to unwind. The best beach is Odesa’s own Arcadia Beach. It’s one of the top resorts in the country, and home to tons of hotels, swimming pools, waterslides, shops, bars, and restaurants. The seafood is excellent in Odesa and there are tons of beachfront restaurants serving up the catch-of-the-day.