A colony from ancient Greece may have once occupied the site of the city. Numerous
monuments of antiquity confirm links between this territory and the Eastern Mediterranean.
In the Middle Ages these lands were a part of the Kiev Rus, Galich and Volyn Principality,
the Golden Horde, the Great Lithuanian Principality, the Crimean Khanate and the
Osman Empire. Crimean Tatars traded there in the 14th century. In the course of
Russian-Turkish wars these lands were captured by Russia at the end of the 18th
Odessa was founded in 1794 by Catherine the Great. In 1764 the Empress formed
the territories newly acquired in the south-west other empire into a province
called Novorossiya. During the Russian-Turkish war of 1787-91, Don Josef de
Ribas, a soldier of fortune born in Naples of Spanish and Irish stock and one
of many adventures in Catherine's service, stormed the fortress of Yeny-Dunai
at Khadzhibei. De Ribas and his close collaborator, a Dutch engineer named Franz
de Volan, recommended Khadzhibei as the site for the region's principal port.
Its harbor was deep and nearly ice-free. Breakwaters, on the model of those
found at Naples, Livorno and Ancona, could be cheaply constructed and would
render the harbor safe even for large fleets. The Governor General of Novorossiya,
Prince Platon Zubov Ч one of Catherine's favorites Ч gave decisive support to
the latter proposal. In 1794, Catherine gave it her approval. She immediately
sent twenty-six thousand roubles to de Ribas and de Volan to build a harbor.
This new settlement was given the name Odessa.
The city's name came about as a result of an error. It was meant to be named
after the ancient Greek city of Odessos or Ordissos, which was believed to have
been founded in the
vicinity. Actually, it was somewhere near the present day town of Varna in Bulgaria.
But Catherine the Great liked "Adessa" Ч as it is pronounced by the
Russians and Ukrainians.
In 1803, Tsar Alexander I appointed a young French emigrant, then 36 years
old, the Duke de Richelieu to be the gradonachalnik, or the mayor, of Odessa.
Eighteen months later, in 1805, the Tsar enlarged his authority by appointing
him to serve simultaneously as the governor of the three provinces of Novorossiya.
In the 11 years of his administration, the Duke de Richelieu acquired an extraordinary
reputation for statesmanship and sense, both abroad and in Russia. Clothed inexplicable
in a toga, his statue now points out to the sea, presumably to indicate the
source of Odessa's wealth. Duke left Odessa on September 26, 1814 for France.
Even after his return to France to serve as prime minister under the restored
monarchy, he retained cordial ties with the Imperial Russian Court and with
the Russian ambassador to France, Pozzo di Borgo.
By 1820 Odessa had become an important commercial, industrial and cultural
center in the southern part of Tsarist Russia and the greatest seaport on the
Black Sea. The economy of Odessa was based on private businesses. They made
the city a 'dissident' in the old feudal Russia.
The unique position of Odessa as a vital trade link between the West and the
East, and the growth in importance of Russia's external trade through the Black
Sea in the 19th century made way for the establishment of a big trade port center
for the development of Odessa into an advanced European city. A crucial event
in the trade policy was the declaration of a free port regime in Odessa in August,
1819, establishing a customs border in the vicinity. It was aimed at overcoming
scarcity in the domestic market, by the attraction of investment capital. It
has been also done because of absence of Russia's trade fleet in the Black Sea.
The free port was a guarantee of Odessa's financial security, a breakthrough
into the civilized world, a dress rehearsal for the development of an open economy
in the Russian Empire. The transformation of Odessa into an advanced European
city was put forward by prominent administrators Ч experienced and cultured
governor generals of the Novorossiya region. Their work was based on the activities
of representatives of numerous nations and nationalities that came to Odessa
bringing their cultures of manufacturing, trade and management. It resulted
in a new culture comprising the best features of all its constituents.
Throughout the whole period of the free port in Odessa (1819-1858) there was
a huge discussion between supporters and opponents of the privileged tax regime.
Free trade influenced negatively the development of manufacturing in the region.
Local products could not compete in quality with overseas goods.
The Crimean War (1853-56) revealed the bankruptcy of the closed economy in
feudal Russia compared to the developed capitalistic economies of the Great
Britain and France. The war prompted the reforms of the 1860's. With new trade
regulations, the free port regime in Odessa was out of date, and was eventually
By its hundredth anniversary (1894), Odessa occupied the 4th place in the Russian
Empire in size and economic power - after St. Petersburg, Moscow and Warsaw.
Odessans were noted for their powerful economic and wonderful spirit of freedom
which allowed them to achieve great success in the field of science, education
and the arts.
Nowadays the city of Odessa, with a total population of 1,050,000, is the capital
city of Odessa region. Odessa in conjunction with its satellite towns of Ilyichevsk
and Yuzhny, forms an important port and industrial complex and one of the largest
urban conurbations on the entire Black Sea coast. It is strategically located
on one of the shortest and most convenient waterways leading from Northern and
Central Europe to the Middle East and Asia through the Rhine and Danube river
and canal system. This system, together with such waterways as the Dnieper,
Dniester, and Volga-Don rivers combined with the three large ports of Odessa,
Ilyichevsk and Yuzhny and the Odessa railroad provides a unique opportunity
for the economic processing of transit cargo traffic and passenger flows. Odessa
is a leading center of learning and culture with many secondary, higher education,
and training institutions. It is also a major resort area. The economic profile
of Odessa is dominated by the activities of the three major ports, but in addition
to this there are industries such as: ship repairing, machine tool manufacturing,
food processing and textile industries. Ilyichevsk runs the largest fishing
fleet in Ukraine.
Among the great cities of the world, Odessa can claim certain distinctions.
One of the major cities of contemporary Europe, Odessa, officially founded in
1794, is among the youngest ones. No other European city can match such growth
rate in the 19th century. It also developed in an area of the continent that
has an ancient tradition of trade and a long, though discontinuous, history
of urban settlement.