Potemkin Stairs

Coordinates: 46°29′21″N 30°44′36″E / 46.48917°N 30.74333°E / 46.48917; 30.74333

The Potemkin Stairs (Ukrainian: Потьомкінські сходи, Pot’omkins’ki Skhоdy, Russian: Потёмкинская лестница, Potyomkinskaya lestnitsa), is a giant stairway in Odessa, Ukraine. The stairs are considered a formal entrance into the city from the direction of the sea and are the best known symbol of Odessa.

Officially known today as the Primorsky Stairs, they were originally known as the Boulevard steps, the Giant Staircase, or the Richelieu steps.

The top step is 12.5 metres (41 ft) wide, and the lowest step is 21.7 metres (70.8 ft) wide. The staircase is 27 metres high, and extends for 142 metres, but it gives the illusion of greater length.

The stairs were designed to create an optical illusion. A person looking down the stairs sees only the landings, and the steps are invisible, but a person looking up sees only steps, and the landings are invisible. A secondary illusion creates false perspective since the stairs are wider at the bottom than at the top. Looking up the stairs makes them seem longer than they are and looking down the stairs makes them seem not so long.

History

Odessa, perched on a high steppe plateau, needed direct access to the harbor below it. Before the stairs were constructed, winding paths and crude wooden stairs were the only access to the harbor.

The original 200 stairs were designed in 1825 by Francesco Boffo, St. Petersburg architects Avraam I. Melnikov and Pot'e. The staircase cost 800,000 rubles to build.

In 1837, the decision was made to build a "monstrous staircase", which was constructed between 1837 and 1841. An English engineer named John Upton constructed the stairs. Upton had fled Britain while on bail for forgery. Greenish-grey sandstone from the extreme northeastern Italian town of Trieste (at the time it was an Austrian town) was shipped in.

The steps were made famous in Sergei Eisenstein's 1925 silent film The Battleship Potemkin; according to the fictionalized account in that film, soldiers opened fire on the people on the stairs on June 14, 1905. According to journalist Chukovsky, who was in the city during the events, it is unknown whether the Cossacks at the top of the stairs, that were filled with people, actually opened fire on the stairs. In Eisenstein's movie the horrific events that actually took place in various parts of the city were concentrated at the stairs. Noted film critic Roger Ebert writes, "That there was, in fact, no Czarist massacre on the Odessa Steps scarcely diminishes the power of the scene ... It is ironic that did it so well that today the bloodshed on the Odessa steps is often referred to as if it really happened."

As erosion destroyed the stairs, in 1933 the sandstone was replaced by rose-grey granite from the Southern Bug area, and the landings were covered with asphalt. Eight steps were lost under the sand when the port was being extended, reducing the number of stairs to 192, with ten landings.

On the left side of the stairs, a funicular was built in 1906 to transport people up instead of walking. After 50 years of operation, the funicular was outdated and was later replaced by an escalator built in 1970. The escalator broke in the 1990s, the money for its repair was stolen, but it was replaced with a new funicular in 2004.

After the Soviet revolution, in 1955 the Primorsky Stairs were renamed Potemkin Stairs to honor the 50th anniversary of the Battleship Potemkin uprising. After Ukrainian independence, the Potemkin Stairs, like many streets in Odessa, were given back their original name, the Primorsky Stairs. Most Odessites still know and refer to the stairs by their Soviet name.

Duc de Richelieu Monument

At the top of the stairs is a monument depicting the Armand-Emmanuel du Plessis, Duc de Richelieu, a French nobleman who became Odessa's first governor. The Roman-toga figure was designed by the Russian sculptor, Ivan Petrovich Martos (1754–1835). The statue was cast in bronze by Yefimov and unveiled in 1826. It is the first monument erected in the city.

Quotations

Building Activity

  • Radil Radenkov
    Radil Radenkov updated 3 digital references and updated
    about 6 years ago via OpenBuildings.com
  • updated 4 digital references
    about 6 years ago via OpenBuildings.com