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Potemkin Stairs and Primorskiy Boulevard

There are a number of streets in Odessa that appear to be taken out of a mediterranean sea town and that make up the special charm of this city at the Black Sea. Yet, despite an abundance of choices of romantic and beautiful places, Primorskiy Boulevard seems to be the magnet that draws even more visitors than other streets.

It is a pedestrian-only promenade, seamed by trees on both sides and equipped with park benches and gas lamps, creating a nostalgic atmosphere and a place to spend hours in when the weather is right. The large number of tourists spending time here usually also draws a parade of street vendors, artists and people with animals ready to pose for photos.  

Odessa Potemkin Stairs

At one end of Primorskiy Boulevard, at the corner of Pushkinska Street, there is another one of Odessa’s main attraction, the City Hall, notable for its neoclassical, white columns. The building, constructed between 1828 and 1834, originally served as a stock exchange and was later converted to become the seat of the Soviet administration. The original use of the structure explains the two statues adorning the front, one depicting the Roman goddess of agriculture, the other representing Mercury, the Roman god of trade. In the square in front of City Hall, there is a monument ot Russian author Alexander Pushkin and a naval cannon from a British vessel active in the Crimean War of 1853-1856.

Continuing down the boulevard to the other end, visitors will find the Vorontsov Palace, built on the sea-facing cliff in 1826 to become the residence of the city governor. Several building belong to the complex, which had been turned into the Red Guard’s main quarters after 1917. Most notable is the colonnade in Greek architectural style, behind which the view opens up onto the port down below. Also located on the street is the historic Londonskaya Hotel, notable for its Italian renaissance architecture.

However, the main drawpoint of Primorskiy Boulevard is a square in the middle of the street, where a statue of Duc de Richelieu stands, Odessa’s first governor.Beyond the monument, the Potemkin stairs begin, made famous by the 1925 film “Battleship Potemkin” and today Odessa’s landmark attraction. When standing at the top of the stairs, one can see only the steps’ landings, creating the optical illusion of one comprehensive area, while from the bottom, only the steps are visible, but not the landings. The entire staircase is 142 meters long, but appears to be much longer when looked at. This effect is aided by the staircase gradually growing wider from the top to the bottom with the lowest step almost nine meters wider than the topmost one. The architecture creates the perspective view of the stairs leading right up to the sky, which has caused many famous writers to note the stairs in their works.  

There was a simple reason why the stairs were constructed - the city built on a plateau needed easy access to the ocean below. Following designs completed in 1825 by a group of architects, the stairs were built between 1837 and 1841 by an English engineer, using sandstone imported from what is today Italy. However, the sandstone proved to be susceptible to erosion forces and in 1933, the original material was replaced by granite. When the port structures at the foot of the stairs were extended, eight of the original 200 steps had to be removed, so that there are now 192 steps covering a difference in elevation of 30 meters.

Next to the stairs, there is a funicular railway for those who do not want to climb all the way up. The railway was originally built in 1906, but was shut down in 1970. In 2005, a new funicular was set up.