Potemkin Stairs

Coordinates: 46°29′21″N 30°44′36″E / 46.48917°N 30.74333°E / 46.48917; 30.74333
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Potemkin Stairs
Ukrainian: Потьомкінські сходи
Potemkin Stairs in Odesa, Ukraine
Potemkin Stairs in Odesa, Ukraine
DesignF. Boffo, Avraam 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; 30.74333

The Potemkin Stairs, Potemkin Steps (Ukrainian: Потьо́мкінські схо́ди, romanizedPotiomkinski skhody), or, officially, Primorsky Stairs are a giant stairway in Odesa, Ukraine.[3] They are considered a formal entrance into the city from the direction of the sea and are the best known symbol of Odesa.[1]

The stairs were originally known as the Boulevard steps, the Giant Staircase,[4] or the Richelieu steps.[5][6][7][8] 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.[9][10][11][12]


The 142-metre (155 yard) long Potemkin Stairs. Photo from between 1890 and 1900
Potemkin Stairs c. early 20th century

Odesa, 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 commissioned by Prince Mikhail Semyonovich Vorontsov, the regional governor-general, as both a gift to his wife Elisabeth and to gain support from the local elites, many of whom lived at the top of the future staircase along Prymorskyi Boulevard.[13] Accordingly, they were originally referred to variously as the Primorsky Stairs, or alternatively as the Boulevard Stairs or Giant Stairs.[13] They were designed in 1837 by Italian architect Francesco Boffo and St. Petersburg architects Avraam Melnikov and Pot'e.[1][14][15] 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. English engineer John Upton supervised construction. Upton had fled Britain while on bail for forgery.[16] 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 11 July 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.[17]

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.[18]

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.[19] After the restoration of Ukrainian independence in 1991, like many streets in Odesa, the historic name, "Primorsky Stairs," was reinstated.[20]

Potemkin Stairs and cinematography

Duke de Richelieu Monument[edit]

Statue of the Duc de Richelieu

At the top of the stairs is the Duke de Richelieu Monument, depicting Odesa'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,[21][22] and memorializes him for the period of growth and prosperity he led during the 11 years of his administration.[23]

Observations and descriptions of the stairs[edit]

A flight of steps unequalled in magnificence, leads down the declivity to the shore and harbour[24]

This expensive and useless toy, is likely to cost nearly forty thousand pounds.[25]

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.[26]

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.[27]

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'"[28]

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.[29]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Herlihy, Patricia (1991) [1987]. Odessa: A History, 1794–1914. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. p. 140. ISBN 0-916458-15-6. (hardcover; ISBN 0916458431, paperback reprint)
  2. ^ a b c d Kononova, G. (1984). Odesa: A Guide. Moscow: Raduga Publishers. p. 51
  3. ^ Davis, G.; Dickinson, K.; Patti, L.; Villarejo, A. (2015). Film Studies: A Global Introduction. Taylor & Francis. p. 425. ISBN 978-1-317-62338-0. Retrieved 9 March 2023.
  4. ^ Karakina, Yelena; Samoilova, Tatyana; Ishchenko, Anna (2004). Touring Odessa. BDRUK. ISBN 9668137019. Archived from the original on 5 February 2012. p. 32
  5. ^ Prince Michael Vorontsov: Viceroy to the Tsar. McGill-Queen's Press – MQUP. 1990. ISBN 0-7735-0747-7. p. 119. Referencing USSR: Nagel Travel Guide Series. New York: McGraw Hill. 1965. p. 616
  6. ^ Bell, Christopher M; Bruce A Elleman (2003). Naval Mutinies of the Twentieth Century: An International Perspective. Routledge (UK). ISBN 0-7146-5460-4. p. 18, 25
  7. ^ Montefiore, S Sebag (2001). The Prince of Princes: The Life of Potemkin. St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-27815-2. p. 498 "The Richelieu Steps in Odessa were renamed the "Potemkin Steps"...
  8. ^ Woodman, Richard (2005). A Brief History Of Mutiny: A Brief History of Mutiny at Sea. Carroll & Graf Publishers. ISBN 0-7867-1567-7. p. 223
  9. ^ Herlihy, p. 140 "12.5 meters wide and 21.5 meters wide"
  10. ^ Kononova, p. 51 "12.5 m at the top and 21.6 m at the bottom"
  11. ^ Karakina, p. 31 "13.4 and 21.7 meters wide"
  12. ^ Kononova, G. (1984). Odessa: A Guide. Moscow: Raduga Publishers. p. 51
  13. ^ a b "The Potemkin Stairs". Discover Ukraine. Retrieved 27 April 2022.
  14. ^ Kononova, p. 48.
  15. ^ 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".
  16. ^ Reid, Anna (2000). Borderland: A Journey Through the History of Ukraine. Westview Press. ISBN 0-8133-3792-5. p. 61
  17. ^ "Potemkin Stairs". Odessa travel guide. 2019.
  18. ^ "Odessa Funicular Railway". Ukrainian Travel. Archived from the original on 2 April 2015. Retrieved 25 March 2015.
  19. ^ Karakina, p. 31
  20. ^ Davis, G.; Dickinson, K.; Patti, L.; Villarejo, A. (2015). Film Studies: A Global Introduction. Taylor & Francis. p. 425. ISBN 978-1-317-62338-0. Retrieved 9 March 2023.
  21. ^ Kononova, p. 48
  22. ^ Herlihy, p. 21
  23. ^ "Duke de Richelieu". Odessa 360.
  24. ^ Herlihy, p. 140, Quoting Koch, Charles (1855). The Crimea and Odessa: Journal of a tour. London.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link) p. 260.
  25. ^ 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.
  26. ^ 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
  27. ^ 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.
  28. ^ Herlihy, p. 317, Quoting William Hamm, 1862, p. 95-96.
  29. ^ Herlihy, p. 317, paraphrasing Shirley Brooks, 185, p. 18.

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