1902 Encyclopedia > Odessa

Odessa, Ukraine
(previously: Odessa, Russia)

ODESSA, one of the most important seaports of Russia, ranks in the empire by its population (225,000) and foreign trade after St. Petersburg, Moscow, and Warsaw. It is situated in 46° 28’ N. lat and 30° 44’ E. long., on the southern shore of a semicircular bay, at the north-western angle of the Black Sea, and is 933 miles distant from Moscow and 403 miles from Kieff. Odessa is the proper seaport for the basins of two great rivers of Russia, the Dnieper, with its tributary the Bug, and the Dniester; the entrances to the mouths of both these offering many difficulties for navigation, trade has from the remotest antiquity selected this spot, which is situated half-way between the estuaries, while the flat ground of the neighboring steppe allows easy communication with the lower parts of both rivers. The limans or lagoons of Haji-bey and Kuyalnik, which penetrate far inland from the neighborhood of Odessa, are separated from the sea by flat sandy isthmuses. The bay of Odessa, which has an area of 14 square miles and a depth of 30 feet, with a soft bottom, is a dangerous anchorage on account of its exposure to easterly winds. The ships lie, therefore, in two harbors, both protected by moles,- the "quarantine harbor," from 4 to 21 feet deep, and the so-called "practical harbor," for coasting vessels, with a maximum depth of 11 feet. A new one, 1100 yards long and 660 yards wide, was constructed a few years ago. The harbors freeze for a few days in winter, as also does the bay itself occasionally, navigation being interrupted every year for an average of sixteen days. Odessa experiences the influence of the continental climate of the neighboring steppes; its winters are cold (the average temperature for January being 23.2°, and the isotherm for the entire season that of Konigsberg), its summers are hot (72.8° in July), and the yearly average temperature is 48.5°. The rainfall is scanty (ninety-two rainy days, with 14 inches of rain per annum); and one of the plagues of the city is the chalky dust, which is raised in clouds by the strong winds to which it is exposed. The city is built on a terrace from 100 to 150 feet in height, which descends by steep crags to the sea, and on the other side is continuous with the level of the steppe, which is covered with a layer of "black earth"; the subsoil consists of clay, gravel, and a soft Tertiary sandstone, which is used for building, but readily disintegrates under atmospheric agencies. Catacombs whence this sandstone has been taken extend underneath the town and suburbs, not without some danger to the buildings. The water-supply is inadequate. Drinking-water was formerly shipped from the Crimea, and the poorer classes had to supply themselves from cisterns and bad wells. An aqueduct, 27 miles long, now brings water from Mayaki on the Dnieter.

Map of Odessa

Map of Odessa
Date: circa 1884.

The general aspect of Odessa is that of a wealthy west European city. Its chief embankment, bordered with all and handsome houses, forms a fine promenade; a superb flight of steps descends to the sea from its central square, which is adorned with a statue of Richelieu. The central parts of the city have broad streets and squares, bordered with fine buildings and mansions in the Italian style, and with good shops. But even on the best streets poor houses surrounded with open yards occur side by side with richly decorated palaces; and in close association with elegant carriages and rich dresses one sees the open car of the peasant and the dirty dress of the Jew or the Bulgarian. The cathedral, finished in 1849, can accommodate 5000 persons; it contains the tomb of Count Worontzoff, a former governor-general, who contributed much towards the development and embellishment of the city. The "Palais Royal," with its parterre and fountains, and the spacious public park are fine pleasure-grounds, whilst in the ravines that descend to the sea the dirty houses of the poorer classes are massed. The shore is occupied by immense granaries, some of which look like palaces, and large storehouses take up a broad space in the west of the city. Odessa, which has a circumference of 6 miles, consists of the city proper, containing the old fort (now a quarantine establishment) and surrounded by a boulevard, where was formerly a wall marking the limits of the free port, of the suburbs Novaya and Peresyp, extending northward along the lower shore of the bay, and of Moldavanka to the south-west. A number of villas and cottages surround the city; the German colonies Liebenthal and Lustdorf are bathing-places.

Odessa is the real capital, intellectual and commercial, of the so-called Novorossia, which includes the governments of Bessarabia and Kherson. In the official subdivision of Russia it is only the chief town of the district of the same name in the government of Kherson. It constitutes at the same time an independent "municipal district" or captaincy (gradonachalstvo), which covers 182 square miles and includes a dozen villages, some of which have from 2000 to 3000 inhabitants. Odessa, like St Petersburgh and Moscow, received in 1863 a new municipal constitutions, with an elective mayor, municipal assembly, and executive council. It is also the chief town of the Novorossian educational district, and has a university, which replaced Richelieu Lyceum in 1865, and now has about 400 students. The young scientific society at the university is very active in investigating the natural history of southern Russia and of the Black Sea, and has already published some valuable Transactions. There are also an historical society with a museum containing rich collections from the Hellenic, Genoese, Venetian, and Mongolo-Tatar periods of the history of the Black Sea coast, a society of agriculture, a public library, and many educational institutions.

The population of Odessa is rapidly increasing. In 1814, twenty years after its foundation, it had 25,000 inhabitants; this figure steadily grew in succeeding years, Worontzoff allowing allsorts of people, runaway serfs included, to settle in the steppes of Bess-arabia and Kherson, while at the same time the privileges of a free port, granted in 1817 and abolished only in 1857, attracted great numbers of merchants of all nationalities. In 1850 Odessa had 100,000 inhabitants 185,000 in 1873, and at present (1884) the number exceeds 225,000. of these the great majority are Great Russians and Little Russians; but there are also large numbers of Jews (67,000, exclusive of Karaties, against 50,000 in 1873), as well as of Italians, Greeks, Germans, and French (to which nationalities the chief merchants belong), as also of Roumanians, Servians, Bulgarians, Tatars, Armenians, Lazes, Georgians, &c. These nationalities do not live in perfect harmony, and the continual commercial antagonism between the Greeks, and the Jews often leads to scenes of disorder. A numerous floating population of laborers, attracted at certain periods by pressing work in the port, and afterwards left unemployed owing to the enormous fluctuations in the corn trade, is one f the features of Odessa. It is estimated that there are no less than 35,000 people living from hand to mouth in the utmost misery, partly in the extensive labyrinth of the catacombs beneath the city.

The leading occupations of the inhabitants are connected with exporting, shipping, and manufactures. These latter have extended rapidly within the last twenty years, but their aggregate production (in gradonachalstrvo of Odessa) does not exceed 20,000,000 roubles (about £2,000,000). To this total the principal items are contributed by the steam flour mills (about £650,000 in 1879), the manufacture of tobacco (£200,000) and of machinery (£200,000), after which come tanneries, soap-works, chemical-works, biscuit factories, rope-works, and carriage-works. The foreign trade, chiefly in corn, has immensely increased of late, since Odessa was brought into railway communication with central Russia. Grain was exported in 1880 to the amount of 1,040,400 quarters (2,445,120 quarters in 1878). This figure is subject, however, to great fluctuations. The other articles of export are flour, wool, tallow, hides, cattle (about 140,000 head), soap, ropes, and spirits, the value of the aggregate amount of exports reaching 42,000,000 roubles in 1880, against 65,000,000 roubles in 1879, and 85,815,000 in 1878. the chief articles of import are tea £1,600,000 in 1881), coffee, rice, cotton, tobacco, coal, oil, leather, paper, fruits, wine, and all kinds of manufactured ware, for an aggregate sum of 47,775,000 roubles in 1880. Odessa also carries on a brisk trade with other seaports of Russia, and, besides the 1508 ships (282 Russian and 650 English) engaged in foreign trade which entered the port of Odessa in 1879, it was visited by 2700 coasting vessels. Odessa is in regular steam communication with all the chief ports of the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, as also with London. The Russian Navigation Company sends its steamers by the Suez Canal to Chinese, Indian, and Russian Pacific ports, and has a numerous fleet on the Dnieper, Dniester, and Bug. The commercial fleet of Odessa in 1770 numbered 101 steamers (44,000 tons) and 178 sailing ships (19,800 tons). The total revenue of the town in 1882 was 1,938,000 roubles, and the expenditure 1,883,000 roubles, - the chief items being, for charitable institutions 434,000 roubles, for the army 231,000, for a administration and police 309,000, and for public instruction 138,000.

History. – The bay of Odessa was colonized by Greeks at a very early period, and their ports- istrianorum Portus and Isiacorum Portus on the shores of the bay, and Odessus and the modern Skopeli at the mouth of the Tiligul liman – carried on a lively trade with the neighboring steppes. These towns disappeared in the 3d and 4th centuries, leaving nothing but heaps of runs; and for ten centuries thenceforward no settlements in these tracts are mentioned. All that is known is that in the 6th century the space between the mouths of the Dnieper and the Dniester was occupied by the Antes, and in the 9th century by the Tivertsy, both of Slavonian origin. In the 14th century this region belonged to the Lithuanians, and in 1396 Olgerd defeated in battle three Tatar chiefs, one of whom, Bek-Haji, had recently founded, at the place now occupied by Odessa, a fort which received his name. The Lithuanians, and subsequently the Poles, kept the country under their dominion until the 16th century, when it was seized by the Tatars, who still permitted, how ever, the Lithuanians to gather salt in the neighboring lakes. Later on the Turks left a garrison at Jahi-bey, and founded in 1764 the fortress Yanidunia. In 1769 the Zaporog Cossacks made a raid on Haji-bey and burned its suburbs, but could not take the fort; and, after the destruction of the Zaporojskaya Sech, the runaway Zaporogians settled close by Haji-bey in what is now the "quanrantine ravine." In 1787 the Cossack leader Chepega again attacked Haji-bey and burned all its storehouses, and two years later the Russians, under the French captain De Ribas, took the fortress by assault. In 1791 Haji-bey and the Otchakoff region were conceded to Russia. De Ribas and the French engineer Voland were entrusted in 1794 with the erection of a town and the construction of a port at Haji-bey; the former was allowed to distribute about 100,000 acres of land freely to new settlers, and two years later Haji-bey, renamed Odessa, had 3153 permanent inhabitants, besides the military, and was visited by 86 foreign vessels. In 1803 Odessa became the chief town of a separate municipal district or captaincy, the first captain being the duke of Richelieu, who did very much for the development of the young city and its improvements as a seaport. In 1824 Odessa became the seat of the governors-general of Novorossia and Bessarabia. Since that time it has steadily increased its foreign trade and extended its commercial relations. In 1866 it was brought into railway connection with Kieff and Kharkoff via Balta, and with Jassy in Roumania. (P. A. K.)


When this article was first published (1884), Odessa was part of Russia. Odessa is now part of the Ukraine.

The article above was written by: Prince Peter Alexeivitch Kropotkin, recipient of the Gold Medal of Russian Geographical Society, 1864; crossed North Manchuria from Transbaikalia to the Amur, 1864; author of General Sketch of the Orography of East Siberia; In Russian and French Prisons; Recent Science in the Nineteenth Century; and Memoirs of a Revolutionist.

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