Odessa, often called the “Pearl of the Black Sea,” is one of the Ukraine’s largest cities and, along with Kiev, the most popular with tourists. Often featured on Mediterranean and Black Sea cruises, Odessa is well known for its museums, world-famous opera house, beaches, lively nightlife and the old town’s centerpiece — the Potemkin Steps. The city is rich in Western European culture, and it’s also an important transit port for the region.
An excursion to Odessa’s Old Town is a great way to see some of the city’s most important cultural and historical landmarks. Guided tours are in abundance, but it’s easy enough to conduct your own walking tour if you have a good map and guide book. Highlights include the architecturally unique opera house, where greats such as Peter Tchaikovsky performed; the scenic Italian courtyard; the City Garden; museums, such as the Alexander Pushkin Literary Museum; the former palace of the Czar; huge Spaso-Preobrazhensky Cathedral; and the Potemkin Steps (also known as the Potemkin Stairs) — 192 steps, named for a famous battleship, that are said to bring good luck to those who go up and down in bare feet.
For avid shoppers, a visit to Privoz Market at Privoznaya 14 in Odessa is a must. Originally a farmer’s market, the massive Privoz still sells fresh fruit and produce. But the list of its offerings has grown to include everything from construction materials to CDs to caviar, shoes, clothing, jewelry and antique tools. It’s easy to spend the day at Privoz, a combination of established shops and wooden booths where haggling is not only welcome, but expected.
Beaches and Nightlife
The largest and most popular beach in Odessa is Arcadia Beach, just 15 minutes from downtown. But the beach isn’t the only attraction there. Shops, restaurants and pubs of every kind surround the beach, which is known to attract celebrities. Visitors often spend the day at the beach, throw on some clothes and spend the evening eating, drinking and dancing in one of many themed nightclubs, such as Assol, which resembles a ship.
The catacombs of Odessa comprise a network of underground tunnels that cover more than 1,500 miles under the city and its environs. The tunnels, filled with hidden caves, were formed over a 200-year period, primarily as a result of mining of the stone used in construction during the 19th century. During World War II, German and Romanian armies used the catacombs as campsites. One small section of the catacombs, north of the city, is open to the public; visitors can ask at their hotel about booking guided excursions Odessa, Ukraine, is a port city on the Black Sea, with a history stretching back to the 13th century. In the 21st century, Odessa attracts regular tourist traffic from Russia, Eastern Europe and further afield, and permanent residents of the city can take advantage of a range of professional, cultural and leisure opportunities.
The settlement preceding the city of Odessa was established in 1240 by the Tatar Khan of Crimea. For a while, the city was controlled by Lithuania, passing into the control of the Ottoman Empire between 1529 and 1792. In 1794, the Russian empress Catherine the Great founded the city of Odessa, and, for much of the early 19th century, the city was a free port and the fourth- largest city in Imperial Russia. During the Soviet era, Odessa was the Soviet Union’s most important port, also hosting a Soviet naval base. In the 21st century, Odessa is once again a free port.
Odessa sits on a series of hills which overlook the city’s Black Sea harbor. Kiev, the capital city of Ukraine, is 275 miles north of Odessa. The climate in Odessa is relatively dry, with only 14 inches of annual average precipitation. Winters are cold and summers warm, with an average January temperature of 28 degrees Fahrenheit and an average July temperature of 72 degrees Fahrenheit. Hours of daylight range from nine in the winter to 16 in the summer.
Odessa is a multicultural city, with significant minority populations from Turkey, Russia, Romania, Korea, Greece, Germany, Georgia, Bulgaria, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Albania. Ukrainians make up 57 percent of the population and ethnic Russians some 34 percent. The predominantly used language in Odessa is Russian, although Ukrainian is used for official business. Odessa has a strong cultural heritage, with many writers, artists and musicians living and working in the city. During the Soviet years, writers and comedians from Odessa were viewed as smart, savvy and optimistic cultural producers.
Odessa has many museums, spa resorts and attractions for both tourists and local residents. A network of catacombs lies under the city — initially tunneled from abandoned limestone mines for smuggling purposes, these tunnels later served as a hiding place during the Second World War. Although tour operators offer catacomb trips, the tunnels themselves are not considered safe by Ukrainian officials.
Sports activities are popular in Odessa, with professional and amateur facilities available. Soccer is popular, with the city team FC Chornomorets Odesa active in the Ukrainian First League as of March 2011. Odessa also has its own basketball team, BC Odessa. Odessa has produced internationally successful athletes in disciplines ranging from decathlon to gymnastics.
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