Odessa is a city with a very interesting history. A small village until 1794, it was transformed into Russia’s 3rd largest city in only 11 years, on the orders of Catherine the Great (seen here at the top of the monument, standing on an Ottoman flag). She wanted an important commercial port on the Black Sea and decided to named it after the name of the settlement the Greeks had at this very place in antiquity, Odess. Except she thought there were not enough cities in Russia with women’s names, so she feminized it to Odessa.
At a time when aristocratic status mattered much more than nationality, she asked the French Duke of Richelieu to build her city (this being only 6 years after the French Revolution, I imagine there were quite a few French aristocrats around Europe looking for something to do). His statue is at the top of the Potemkin Stairs, made famous by Eisenstein’s 1925 movie “The battleship Potemkin”. In fact, they used to be called Primorski Stairs, but were renamed after the immensely successful propaganda movie. You may notice that the stairs appear to be wider at the bottom. In fact, they are, by 9 m.
This was done to create the optical illusion that the stairs were perfectly parallel, when viewed from the top, where aristocrats lived. Also, at the right angle, you only see the landings from the top, whereas from the bottom, you only see the steps.
The aristocrats mainly lived on what has become this beautiful promenade, Primorsky Boulevard. But the city almost never happened. Shortly after ordering its construction, Catherine died and was succeeded by her only son, Paul I. He hated his mother and essentially attempted to reverse all her decisions and projects. The city would receive no special treatment. So the distraught merchants ordered a shipment of thousands of oranges from Greece and presented them as a gift to the new Emperor. He was so excited by the exotic fruit that, realizing the commercial port was the only way to obtain such fantastic luxuries, he re-established all the special considerations the new city was getting. This story strangely reminded me of the time people I was travelling with bribed a policeman with 2 apples in Mozambique!
So this new monument celebrating the event is alternatively called “Monument to the Orange”, or “Monument to the bribe”! Continue reading