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Historic Center of the Port City of Odessa

Date of Submission: 06/01/2009
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Ministry of Culture and Tourism
State, Province or Region:
Odessa Region
Ref.: 5412

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Odessa is the only city in Ukraine that has entirely preserved the urban structure of a multinational southern port town typical for the late 18th - 19th centuries. The port function of the town played a dominant role in determining urban system of Odessa, and plans for development of the port town were achieved in extremely short terms - just one hundred years, from 1794 to the late 19th century. This resulted in a complete urban system that followed regular Classicistic principles. The preserved from the late 18th- early 19th centuries structure of a street network is recognized as an outstanding achievement in domestic urban construction of the Classicistic Period which shows no analogies elsewhere in Ukraine.

Favorable geographic location, rapidly growing port and status of Porto Franco granted to Odessa in 1817 in a very short time turned the town into the largest commercial center on Northern Coast of the Black Sea that linked economic interests of the West and the East and shortened trade routes between them. In a very short time a small Turkish settlement of Hajibey turned into a large European-looking commercial, industrial and cultural center. Status of an administrative center of Novorussian Region granted to Odessa favored its further development as a focus of colonization of the Northern Coast of the Black Sea. Multinational character of the town's population determined a unique specificity of its urban environment and cultural phenomenon.

Specific character of the Odessa's urban environment stemmed from its status of an administrative center of Novorussian Region, commercial and defensive functions of the town, multinational population and democratic spirit of that time period.

In the modem city of Odessa these characteristics are best evident in the former Porto Franco area, particularly in its coastal part which encompasses territory delimited by Primorska Street, Preobrazhenska Street, Bunina Street and Polska Street. This area contains over 300 historic buildings and monuments inscribed on regional and national lists of architectural and cultural heritage.

Within just one century the city had developed into a complete architectural organism with a unique urban environment that has been to a great extent preserved till today. Because during the World War II Odessa did not suffer from bombardments as much as did many other Soviet cities it managed to preserve authentic urban environment in its central historic part.

By the late 19th century conditional boundaries of original national colonies had eventually disappeared and Odessa grew into a southern port town with international cultural traditions. This conglomerate of traditions survives till now.

The coastal or maritime area of Odessa shows well preserved architectural ensembles including:

Primorsky Boulevard with a circular square and the Monument of Duke de Richelieu, which form a compositional axis of the port part of the city;

Dumska Square, which flanks Primorsky Boulevard on southeast;

Vorontsov's Palace flanking the boulevard on northwest;

Kateryninska Square, Kateryninska Street and Gigantic Stairs, which connect the city with the port and form a second compositional axis of the port part of the city;

Lanzheronivska Street with a magnificent building of Odessa Opera House.

To sum up, Odessa shows a unique example of a city, which due to its status of Porto Franco became a center of gravitation for multiethnic population who build a settlement representing both conglomerate of different cultural traditions and a harmonic architectural polyphony.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Criterion (i) : The historic center of Odessa has preserved its authentic landscape made of a system of harbors, a coastal area and an extensive upper plateau cut by several ravines. This part of the city also contains a plethora of well preserved historic structures built by renowned architects and engineers. It represents a complete historic ensemble of the 19th century with only a few younger buildings.

Criterion (ii): Historic center of Odessa shows a unique co-existence of two principles of urban environment organization represented by macro-urbanism of streets and squares oriented towards European architectural styles and micro-urbanism of inner courtyards demonstrating "Odessan traditionalism".

Criterion (iii) : The Historic Center of the Port City of Odessa demonstrates a rare for both Ukraine and the world type of historic development of a multiethnic Classicistic settlement where just within one century different cultural traditions of Bulgarians, Gkeks, Armenians, Jews, Italians, Moldavians, Poles, Russians, Romanians, Tatars and Ukrainians "dissolved" in a single socio-cultural environment, while the evidence of the originally separate compact residency of these ethnic groups remained preserved in the toponimy of the modern city.

Criterion (iv) : Odessa is example of a cultural landscape, in the core of which is a magnificent Classicistic ensemble of monumental buildings that represents a socio-cultural phenomenon of the "nineteen-century European Union" formed on the basis of a port city.

Criterion (v) : Ethno-cultural specifics of the historic center of the port city are seen in the "interiors" of residential quarters. In combination with main facades build in best European Classicistic and Modernistic traditions they represent an interesting phenomenon of European significance. Throughout evolution of the city, boundaries of ethnic groups, which initially, with the spread of European Classicism, disappeared at the level of "facades", for much longer remained evident in "interiors" of residential quarters. Further urbanization of the city, particularly reconstruction works in inner yards of the quarters, may lead to a complete loss of these characteristics of the Odessa urban environment.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The administrative, defensive and port functions of Odessa determined spatial and functional organization of its master plan represented by a regular Classicist layout designed by Franz Devolan and approved by Russian Emperor Alexander I in 1803.

Today's plan of Odessa also shows strict functional zoning typical of the original layout of the early 19th century which includes the area of port, a maritime zone along four harbors, a storage zone in the area of Karantinna ravine and a residential zone on the upper plateau.

Just a few later built structures do not influence significantly authentic appearance of the historic center of Odessa formed in the 19th century.

Comparison with other similar properties

Combination of characteristics that represents historic center of the port city of Odessa finds no analogies in Ukraine and Europe.