Ukraine’s most important and largest port, serving the Black Sea, handles both passenger and freight traffic. The port is the major economic factor of the city, having a capacity to handle up to 40 million tons of goods per year. It was founded in 1794 and actually consists of several harbors which are shielded from the open ocean by breakwaters. The port area at the foot of the Potemkin stairs is often the first thing Odessa visitors get to see, as it receives up to four million cruise ship passengers per year. At the passenger terminal building, there are a hotel and a number of bars along with an anchor museum and an exhibition hall that is sometimes used as a concert hall. In the port area, boat tours travelling along the coast are being offered.
Odessa Opera and Ballet Theater
Probably the most famous structure in town next to the Potemkin stairs, the Odessa Opera building was originally opened in 1810. It was destroyed by fire in 1873 and the reconstruction was completed in 1887 in a neo-baroque style by a team of architects from Vienna. It is famous for its outstanding acoustics, allowing everyone of the possible 1600 in the audience to hear even the lowest tones from the stage. Apart from the acoustics, the inside is notable for the rococo-style audience hall which is decorated with rich, gilded elements, a giant chandelier and paintings with motifs taken from Shakespeare plays. Further of note is the building’s facade, where a number of statues depict theatrical scenes. Also integrated in the outside design are busts of notable composers and playwrights. There is a small public garden adjacent to the building. In front of the opera, the beautiful Teatralnaya Square stretches out, seamed by more architectural treasures. On stage, the program features exclusively opera and ballet performances, no plays. Those attending the theatre should be aware that a dress code is in effect and visitors wearing sports shoes as well as t-shirts are not permitted entry.
1 Tchaikovsky Street, guided tours are offered outside of performance times
Next to the Primorskiy Boulevard another great inner-city street which always draws a crowd of locals and visitors. The street is a little less than one kilometer in length and lined with restaurants, bars and cafés with a number of souvenir stores in between. Deribasivska is named after Josep de Ribas, the Spanish founder of the city who also served as its first mayor. It was turned into a pedestrian zone in 1984. The cobblestoned pavement and the street artists and vendors lend it a special atmosphere, especially in warm summer nights. Fittingly, it is the location of the “Humorina”, a traditional procession of humor, taking place around April Fools’ Day. In the middle of the street, there is a small park called the “city garden” with a fountain, a bandstand hosting open air plays in the summer and a number of monuments, including a large lion statue and one dedicated to jazz musician Leonid Utyosov.
Arguably Odessa’s main clerical building, the Transfiguration Cathedral, commonly referred to as the “Spaso-Preobrazhenskiy Cathedral”, occupies a space that was used for church building over centuries, going back to the 13th century. Despite the long history, visitors will today find here a structure that was completed in 2003. However, that building is a copy of the historic church that had been commissioned by Catherine the Great, completed in 1808, repeatedly expanded in the next decades and demolished by the Bolskeviks in 1936. The cathedral can be toured against a small fee. Outside of the churchyard, some local artists display their works.
3 Sobornaya Square
Among a great number of public parks and gardens in the city, all of which enjoy great popularity among the locals, Shevchenko Park stands out because of its location. Right next to the central city area, it features comfortably wide trails and landscaped gardens as well as several notable monuments and statues. It is also home to an observatory and the Chornomorets Stadium, home of the city’s primary football club, newly built in 2011. At the park’s gate, the Baryatinsky Boulevard begins, a scenic street leading to nice viewpoints over the coast below.
One of the most fascinating facts about Odessa lies below its ground. There, pushed up to 60 meters below sea level and in three layers, limestone had been extracted in the 19th century that was used to construct the houses of the young, fast-growing city above. While the mining operations already cut significant catacombs into the ground, these caves were widened later, first by smugglers, then by Soviet partisans in the 1940s, fighting against the Romanian and German occupiers of the Odessa. The whole extent of the catacombs is not known and neither are all caves and ways leading through them. Estimates give the whole tunnel network a length of about 2500 kilometers, with more than 1000 known access points. However, exploring the catacombs, although not expressively prohibited, is at least discouraged due to the fact that there is no safety system in place - there have been fatalities of people getting lost in the tunnels. A safe access point is available a few miles outside of the city, in Nerubaiskoe, where the Museum of Partisan Glory gives visitors the opportunity to climb down into an abandoned mine that had been used by guerilla groups in World War II.
Nerusbaiskoe, via E 95 highway, open daily 9 am - 4 pm, closed Mondays