Stairway to Heaven – Part II


A few weeks ago, Victor shared some amazing and unique examples of staircases from across the globe. One staircase that was highlighted in that post has both historic and personal significance to Victor; the Potemkin Stairs. Victor’s experience and history lesson is below:

About 38 years ago in September 1975, I walked the Potemkin Stairs.  Back then the place was famous for contraband and I was hunting for a pair of jeans.  I indirectly benefited from the innovations of the black market, but to me it did not matter if the jeans were from a sailor abroad or smuggled by a local seaman.  I was shopping in the Soviet days.

The stairway runs from the seaport up to the monument of the first governor of the city who was known for supporting free trade.

The Potemkin Stairs stand sixth on the list of 10 most beautiful stairs in Europe, though citizens call it “the 8th wonder of the world” in jest. It is 142 meters (465.9 ft) long and includes 192 steps (originally 200 steps). The architectural engineering of the Potemkin Stairs creates an optical illusion: when you look down the stairs you see only the landings, not the stairs. When you look up from the bottom you see only the steps, no landings. Also when you look down the stairs it seems that both sides of the stone parapet are parallel, however, the stairs at the base are almost twice as wide as those at the top. Also, when you look up the stairs they seem longer than they are, and when you look down the stairs they seem shorter.

The name of the stairs has nothing to do with the famous Potemkin. At first they were called “Nicholas Stairs”, “Boulevard Stairs” or “Giant Stairs” (by the way, it was Mark Twain who called them “Giant Stairs” in his novel The Innocents Abroad after he visited Odessa). In fact, the stairs were built from 1837 till 1841 on demand of Prince Vorontsov by architect F. Boffo’s design, which was approved by the Russian Emperor Nicholas I. Once the stairs were ready, Duke Voronsov presented them as a gift to his wife Elizabeth. Ironically, the stairs became famous around the world because of Sergei Eisenstein’s movie “The Battleship Potemkin” devoted to a sailors’ rebellion in 1905. One of the greatest scenes of the movie was filmed on the stairs and since that time they’ve been known as the Potemkin Stairs.

Potemkin Stairs is one of the best places in Odessa with a view of the harbor. Near the stairs there are other things Odessa is proud of: monument of Odessa founder Duke Armand de Richelieu, Pushkin monument, the Opera House, etc. So after taking a picture of you and Duke de Richelieu, you can easily go down the stairs to the sea port and then back because optimal angle of inclination and optimal number of entries will not let you get tired. If you still got tired you can use the Funicular – another relic of old Odessa – now replaced by an escalator.

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