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Spotlight: Odessa

People walking up and down Potemkin Stairs. Image: Getty

We highlight the best of what this southern port city has to offer


Odessa Literature Museum
For those passionate about Russian literature, this is definitely worth a visit. Housed in a 19th-century palace, beautiful rooms are filled with displays on the writers who were born or wrote in Odessa, including such greats as Gogol and Chekhov (who apparently loved the local ice cream). There’s a hall dedicated entirely to Pushkin, who spent a year in political exile in Odessa in the 1820s.

Odessa has a wide range of summer festivals which are worth making time for. These include the Festival Odessa Classics International Music in June, the International Film Festival in July, Green Wave international book fair in August, September’s International Jazz Festival and the Golden Violins of Odessa festival, also in September.

Jewish Museum
The only Jewish museum in the Ukraine, this houses a diverse collection of photographs, letters, documents, books, newspapers, religious garments, household articles, musical instruments, furniture, clothes and toys donated by descendants of Jewish families who escaped or survived the Nazi occupation, when 100,000 Odessa Jews were killed.

Potemkin Steps
Made famous by Eisenstein’s seminal 1925 silent film The Battleship Potemkin, the steps were built at the end of the 19th century to give direct access to Odessa Port. They were constructed to create an optical illusion: a person looking down the stairs only sees the landings, and the steps are invisible, and a person looking up sees only steps, not the landings. There’s a funicular railway running beside the stairs. Be sure to take a walk around the harbour, too: it’s particularly impressive at sunset.

Odessa Catacombs
Underneath the city lies an enormous network of tunnels which played a very significant part in the history of Odessa. These were a refuge for Soviet partisans during the Second World War and, later, a hiding place for smugglers. There’s a small museum on the partisan movement, and the tunnels can be explored on organised tours.

Derybasivska Street
This pedestrianised thoroughfare through the city centre is lined with bars, restaurants and cafes, as well as shops and attractions. It’s a great place to stroll around and absorb the vibe of the city, for dinner or a quick drink.

Vorontsov Palace
Built on the site of a Turkish fortress in 1827, this architectural gem is an elegant, palatial complex on Primorskiy Boulevard. The residence of Count Vorontsov, the original fortress dungeons are still accessible from the palace: during the Crimean War, 200 cannonballs hit the palace when the English and French shelled Odessa — Vorontsov ordered his books to be hidden in the dungeons. The building is an art centre and is used for youth cultural events.


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