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History of Odessa

A colony from ancient Greece may have once occupied the site of the city. Numerous monuments of antiquity confirm links between this territory and the Eastern Mediterranean. In the Middle Ages these lands were a part of the Kiev Rus, Galich and Volyn Principality, the Golden Horde, the Great Lithuanian Principality, the Crimean Khanate and the Osman Empire. Crimean Tatars traded there in the 14th century. In the course of Russian-Turkish wars these lands were captured by Russia at the end of the 18th century.
Odessa was founded in 1794 by Catherine the Great. In 1764 the Empress formed the territories newly acquired in the south-west other empire into a province called Novorossiya. During the Russian-Turkish war of 1787-91, Don Josef de Ribas, a soldier of fortune born in Naples of Spanish and Irish stock and one of many adventures in Catherine's service, stormed the fortress of Yeny-Dunai at Khadzhibei. De Ribas and his close collaborator, a Dutch engineer named Franz de Volan, recommended Khadzhibei as the site for the region's principal port. Its harbor was deep and nearly ice-free. Breakwaters, on the model of those found at Naples, Livorno and Ancona, could be cheaply constructed and would render the harbor safe even for large fleets. The Governor General of Novorossiya, Prince Platon Zubov one of Catherine's favorites gave decisive support to the latter proposal. In 1794, Catherine gave it her approval. She immediately sent twenty-six thousand roubles to de Ribas and de Volan to build a harbor. This new settlement was given the name Odessa.


The city's name came about as a result of an error. It was meant to be named after the ancient Greek city of Odessos or Ordissos, which was believed to have been founded in the vicinity. Actually, it was somewhere near the present day town of Varna in Bulgaria. But Catherine the Great liked "Adessa" as it is pronounced by the Russians and Ukrainians.


In 1803, Tsar Alexander I appointed a young French emigrant, then 36 years old, the Duke de Richelieu to be the gradonachalnik, or the mayor, of Odessa. Eighteen months later, in 1805, the Tsar enlarged his authority by appointing him to serve simultaneously as the governor of the three provinces of Novorossiya. In the 11 years of his administration, the Duke de Richelieu acquired an extraordinary reputation for statesmanship and sense, both abroad and in Russia. Clothed inexplicable in a toga, his statue now points out to the sea, presumably to indicate the source of Odessa's wealth. Duke left Odessa on September 26, 1814 for France. Even after his return to France to serve as prime minister under the restored monarchy, he retained cordial ties with the Imperial Russian Court and with the Russian ambassador to France, Pozzo di Borgo.


By 1820 Odessa had become an important commercial, industrial and cultural center in the southern part of Tsarist Russia and the greatest seaport on the Black Sea. The economy of Odessa was based on private businesses. They made the city a 'dissident' in the old feudal Russia.


The unique position of Odessa as a vital trade link between the West and the East, and the growth in importance of Russia's external trade through the Black Sea in the 19th century made way for the establishment of a big trade port center for the development of Odessa into an advanced European city. A crucial event in the trade policy was the declaration of a free port regime in Odessa in August, 1819, establishing a customs border in the vicinity. It was aimed at overcoming scarcity in the domestic market, by the attraction of investment capital. It has been also done because of absence of Russia's trade fleet in the Black Sea.


The free port was a guarantee of Odessa's financial security, a breakthrough into the civilized world, a dress rehearsal for the development of an open economy in the Russian Empire. The transformation of Odessa into an advanced European city was put forward by prominent administrators experienced and cultured governor generals of the Novorossiya region. Their work was based on the activities of representatives of numerous nations and nationalities that came to Odessa bringing their cultures of manufacturing, trade and management. It resulted in a new culture comprising the best features of all its constituents.


Throughout the whole period of the free port in Odessa (1819-1858) there was a huge discussion between supporters and opponents of the privileged tax regime. Free trade influenced negatively the development of manufacturing in the region. Local products could not compete in quality with overseas goods.


The Crimean War (1853-56) revealed the bankruptcy of the closed economy in feudal Russia compared to the developed capitalistic economies of the Great Britain and France. The war prompted the reforms of the 1860's. With new trade regulations, the free port regime in Odessa was out of date, and was eventually abolished.


By its hundredth anniversary (1894), Odessa occupied the 4th place in the Russian Empire in size and economic power - after St. Petersburg, Moscow and Warsaw. Odessans were noted for their powerful economic and wonderful spirit of freedom which allowed them to achieve great success in the field of science, education and the arts.






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