Potemkin Stairs

The power of the cinema

Practically everyone saw the well-known shots from the cult film by Sergey Eisenstein "The Battleship Potemkin" where a baby-carriage rolling down the steps. It was after this movie that the main staircase of Odessa became world famous and was named Potemkin (one more proof of the power of the cinema). And before that it was known simply as the Nicholas (Primorsky) Boulevard stairs. The stairs were also called as Port steps, Gigantic steps, Richelieu steps, Vorontsov steps, and most importantly - never stopped to be admired by their beauty and grandeur, at all times.

It is difficult now to imagine that originally Primorsky Boulevard ended up with the steep cliff, where you had to come down to get to the sea (as Pushkin wrote, when he came to Odessa in 1823: "And rushing from a steep slope, I would set up to the sea...") Then there began to appear narrow wooden stairs, but it was, as they say, "wrong number".

The wide main staircase, which was to open the city from the sea, was planned by governor-general prince Vorontsov, designed by architect Franz Boffo, and constructed in 1837-1841. The unique construction consists of 10 flights, each having 20 steps (though from the initial 200 steps 8 were covered during the broadening of the Primorskfya Street, so now there are only 192 of them). The staircase stands on 9 transverse arches and 3 longitudinal beams. The combination of steps and flights produces an interesting visual effect, when only flights are visible from above, and only steps - from below, and the staircase seems to be longer; but on the whole the length of the stairs is 142 meters. Another optical effect is that the staircase was created taking into account the perspective, its base (22 m) is wider than the top (12,5 m) - and when viewed from above it seems to be the same width throughout. It was not just the beauty that was taken care of, but the convenience for pedestrians as well - in particular, the optimum tilt angle and number of staircase platforms, where you can take a rest (as the playwright Ostrovsky wrote about it: "One would think, 200 steps ahead.., but it's an easy walk upstairs")

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Panorama: Potemkin Steps

without a baby-carriage rolling down

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Panorama: Potemkinsky stairs

Day of Odessa celebration

Mark Twain, who visited Odessa, praised the steps, and Vladimir Jabotinsky, who was born in Odessa, proudly wrote:

The staircase, as wide as a wide street, two hundred lordly steps; there seems to be no other such in the world, and if they tell me where one could be found, I would not go to see it

Furtheremore, according to the results of the recent survey by European art experts and architects, Potemkin Stairs entered the top 10 of the most beautiful steps in Europe, alongside with the Spanish Steps in Rome and the Monmartre steps in Paris.

The funicular railway and the current state

There is the funicular railway running just next to the Stairs (for those who do not believe Ostrovsky and yet not dare to overcome the stairs.) It was built back in 1902 (and back then was called "lifting machine"). In those days, at the foot of the stairs there still were located "warm sea bathing establishments" and the stations of Kuyal'nik railroad branch, from which small trains departed to the estuaries. In the 70's the funicular was replaced by an escalator, and in 2005 again returned to its original location.

But local "thrill-seekers", who were not satisfied with the slow funicular, looked for a way to ride the stairs "with the wind". Thus, at the beginning of the XX century a popular Odessan aviator, spoprtsman and adventurer Sergei Utochkin arranged a race down the steps, first on a bycicle and then in a motorcar which was still quite a novelty at that time; later on his achievement was repeated by others who would descend the steps using ski, carting, or even - as it happened at one of the annual Humor festivals - in a small Soviet car of the 60th - the so-called "humpback Zaporozhets". 

On City Days (September 2), and in summer during the Odessa International Cinema Festival (OICF), when the concert stage is set up on the high drive to the Sea Terminal, the Potemkin stairs and the park around it become both the audience hall and the dancefloor or a cinemahall for the citizens of Odessa. For example, during the first OICF in 2010, here on the outdoor screen they showed a film that was shot exactly here, "The Battleship Potemkin". Talk about the interconnection between the cinema and the reality!

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Panorama: Duke of Richelieu statue

at the top of the stairs

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Panorama: Humorina 

Fool's Day celebration

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Robert N.
Robert N.