Potemkin Stairs

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Potemkin Stairs
Ukrainian: Потьомкінські сходи
Russian: Потёмкинская лестница
Potemkin Stairs in Odessa, Ukraine
Potemkin Stairs in Odessa, Ukraine
DesignF. Boffo, Avraam I. Melnikov and Pot'e
Opening date1841
Height27 m
Surfacegranite, sandstone[1][2]
Dedicated toBattleship Potemkin
Coordinates: 46°29′21″N 30°44′36″E / 46.48917°N 30.74333°E / 46.48917; 30.74333Coordinates: 46°29′21″N 30°44′36″E / 46.48917°N 30.74333°E / 46.48917; 30.74333

The Potemkin Stairs, or Potemkin Steps (Ukrainian: Потьомкінські сходи, Potj'omkins'ky Skhody, 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.[1] The stairs were originally known as the Boulevard steps, the Giant Staircase,[3] or the Richelieu steps.[4][5][6][7] The top step is 12.5 meters (41 feet) wide, and the lowest step is 21.7 meters (70.8 feet) wide. The staircase extends for 142 meters, but it gives the illusion of greater length.[8][9][10] Due to the sightline, a person looking down the stairs sees only the treads, and the risers are invisible; whereas a person looking up sees only risers, and the treads are invisible.[1][2]


The 142-metre-long Potemkin Stairs. Photo from between 1890 and 1900. Available at the Library of Congress, originally from the Detroit Publishing Company 1905
Potemkin Stairs in 2005

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.[1]

The original 200 stairs were designed in 1825 by Italian architect Francesco Boffo and St. Petersburg architects Avraam I. Melnikov and Pot'e.[1][11][12] The staircase cost 800,000 rubles to build.[1]

In 1837, the decision was made to build a "monstrous staircase", which was constructed between 1837 and 1841. An English engineer named John Upton supervised the construction. Upton had fled Britain while on bail for forgery.[13] Upton went on to oversee the construction of the huge dry-docks constructed in Sevastopol and completed in 1853.

Greenish-grey sandstone from the Austrian port of Trieste (now in Italy) was shipped in.[1][2]

The Potemkin Stairs as seen in Battleship Potemkin

As erosion destroyed the stairs, in 1933 the sandstone was replaced by rose-grey granite from the Boh 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.[1][2]

The steps were made famous in Sergei Eisenstein's 1925 silent film Battleship Potemkin. On July 11, 2015, during the 6th International Film Festival, the European Film Academy put a commemorative plate on the stairs. The plate indicates that the Potemkin staircase is a memorable place for European cinema.[14]

On the left side of the stairs, a funicular railway was built in 1906 to transport people up and down instead of walking. After 73 years of operation (with breaks caused by revolution and war), the funicular was replaced by an escalator in 1970.[2] The escalator was in turn closed in 1997 but a new funicular was opened on 2 September 2005.[15]

In 1955, during the Soviet era, the Primorsky Stairs were renamed as Potemkin Stairs to honor the 50th anniversary of the mutiny on the Battleship Potemkin.[16] After Ukrainian independence, like many streets in Odessa, the previous name – 'Primorsky Stairs' was reinstated to the stairs. Most Odessites still know and refer to the stairs by their Soviet name.

Potemkin Stairs and cinematography

Duke de Richelieu Monument[edit]

Statue of Duc de Richelieu

At the top of the stairs is the Duke de Richelieu Monument, depicting Odessa's town 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.[17][18]


A flight of steps unequalled in magnificence, leads down the declivity to the shore and harbour[19]

This expensive and useless toy, is likely to cost nearly forty thousand pounds.[20]

One of the great sights of Odessa is the staircase street that extends from the harbor shore to the end of the fine boulevard at the top of the hill. Seeing it, don't you involuntarily wonder why such an idea is not oftener carried out? The very simplicity of the design gives it a monumental character; the effect is certainly dignified and majestic. It would be no small task to climb all those stairs. Twenty steps in each flight, ten flights to climb, we should be glad of the ten level landings for breathing space before we reached the top of the hill.[21]

From the centre of the Boulevard, a staircase called the "escalier monstre" descends to the beach. The contractor for this work was ruined. It is an ill-conceived design if intended for ornament; its utility is more than doubtful and its execution defective, that its fall is already anticipated. An Odessa wag has prophesied that the Duc de Richelieu, whose statue is at the top, will be the first person to go down it.[22]

Viewed from one side, the figure [Duke de Richelieu Monument] seems so miserable that wags claim that it seems to be saying "'Give money here'"[23]

Seen from below the vast staircase [the Duke de Richelieu Monument] "appeared crushed" and, the statue should have been of colossal dimensions or else it should have been placed elsewhere.[24]

See also[edit]

Potemkin Stairs; the landings are invisible from the bottom.
Potemkin Stairs; the steps are invisible from the top.
The lower station of the Odessa Funicular, with the Potemkin Stairs on the right


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Herlihy, Patricia (1991) [1987]. Odessa: A History, 1794-1914. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. p. 140. ISBN 0916458156. (hardcover; ISBN 0916458431, paperback reprint)
  2. ^ a b c d e Kononova, G. (1984). Odessa: A Guide. Moscow: Raduga Publishers. p. 51
  3. ^ Karakina, Yelena; Samoilova, Tatyana; Ishchenko, Anna (2004). Touring Odessa. BDRUK. ISBN 9668137019. Archived from the original on 2012-02-05. p. 32
  4. ^ Prince Michael Vorontsov: Viceroy to the Tsar. McGill-Queen's Press - MQUP. 1990. ISBN 0773507477. p. 119. Referencing USSR: Nagel Travel Guide Series. New York: McGraw Hill. 1965. p. 616
  5. ^ Bell, Christopher M; Bruce A Elleman (2003). Naval Mutinies of the Twentieth Century: An International Perspective. Routledge (UK). ISBN 0714654604. p. 18, 25
  6. ^ Montefiore, S Sebag (2001). The Prince of Princes: The Life of Potemkin. St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0312278152. p. 498 "The Richelieu Steps in Odessa were renamed the "Potemkin Steps"...
  7. ^ Woodman, Richard (2005). A Brief History Of Mutiny: A Brief History of Mutiny at Sea. Carroll & Graf Publishers. ISBN 0786715677. p. 223
  8. ^ Herlihy, p. 140 "12.5 meters wide and 21.5 meters wide"
  9. ^ Kononova, p. 51 "12.5 m at the top and 21.6 m at the bottom"
  10. ^ Karakina, p. 31 "13.4 and 21.7 meters wide"
  11. ^ Kononova, p. 48.
  12. ^ Kononova confusingly writes on page 48, "The idea of an architectural ensemble with a broad flight of stone steps leading to the sea which links the high bank with the low shore and provides a gateway to the city, belongs to the well-known St. Petersburg 19th century architect Avraam Melnikov", but on page 51 writes, "The famous Potemkin stairs leading from the square to the sea and Uiltsa Suvorova (Suvorov St.) was designed in 1825 by F. Boffo".
  13. ^ Reid, Anna (2000). Borderland: A Journey Through the History of Ukraine. Westview Press. ISBN 0813337925. p. 61
  14. ^ "Potemkin Stairs". Odessa travel guide. 2019.
  15. ^ "Odessa Funicular Railway". Ukrainian Travel. Archived from the original on 2015-04-02. Retrieved 2015-03-25.
  16. ^ Karakina, p. 31
  17. ^ Kononova, p. 48
  18. ^ Herlihy, p. 21
  19. ^ Herlihy, p. 140, Quoting Koch, Charles (1855). The Crimea and Odessa: Journal of a tour. London. p. 260.
  20. ^ Herlihy, p. 140, Quoting Hommaire de Hell, Xavier (1847). Travels in the Steps of the Caspian Sea, the Crimea, the Caucasus, etc. London. p. 10.
  21. ^ Emery, Mabel Sarah (1901). Russia Through the Stereoscope: A Journey Across the Land of the Czar from Finland to the Black Sea. Underwood & Underwood. p. 210
  22. ^ Herlihy, p. 140, Quoting Jeese, William (1841). Notes of a Half-Pay in Search of Health: Russia, Circassia, and the Crimea, in 1839-1840. 2 vols. London. volume 1, p. 183.
  23. ^ Herlihy, p. 317, Quoting William Hamm, 1862, p. 95-96.
  24. ^ Herlihy, p. 317, paraphrasing Shirley Brooks, 185, p. 18.

External links[edit]