Walks in Odessa: Cathedral Square
Cathedral Square is a very important place for Odessa. Why? Due to the natural processes of the city’s development. Most European cities grew up around fortresses. And where is the most convenient place to put a fortress? That’s right, on the hill. The hill was covered with defensive fortifications, and a high building was erected on the very top. During the war, it offers a wonderful view of the surroundings, and in peacetime, the central tower served as a temple. Next to the tower was the main square of the city, where trade was conducted, military parades and city meetings were held.
Perhaps the Turkish fortress of Hadjibey was also built according to this principle. At the moment, this cannot be reliably established: after the conquest, the fortress was dismantled literally one stone at a time. Our history begins in 1794, when it was decided to build the city and port of Odesa on the site of the Turkish fortress by order of Empress Catherine II. On the central hill, the site of the construction of the church of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, the patron saint of Russian sailors, was consecrated. In 1795, the first stone was laid, and in 1797, the end of construction was planned.
But the empress died suddenly, and her son Paul I ascended the throne. He resolutely began to restore order in the country: this was mainly expressed in closing the initiatives of his late mother. It also happened to Odessa. Financing of all capital buildings was frozen. The city was on the verge of survival and only a miracle saved it from complete decline – read about it in the story about the Monument to Habari.
In 1801, Emperor Paul I was killed, and his son Alexander I ascended the throne. The respectful grandson revived many of Catherine’s initiatives, including the construction of the port in Odessa. The construction of the main city temple was also resumed. In 1808, the Transfiguration Cathedral was consecrated. But that was just the beginning. It turned out that a cathedral of this scale needed a bell tower. In 1837, after changing several architects and contractors, the belfry was built, and the largest bell in Russia, cast from captured Turkish cannons, was erected on it.
Soon, the cathedral became a cathedral, that is, the main church of the Kherson diocese, and forests appeared around it again: total reconstruction began. It was necessary to connect the bell tower and the main building of the cathedral with a passage. And then – to correct the mistakes of the architects who took turns working on this project… The construction was finally completed only in 1903. Now the Cathedral could accommodate up to 9,000 people, and the height of the bell tower was 72 meters!
Of course, this construction did not take place in a clean field. All these years, life was raging around the cathedral. Rich developers built houses here, crowds of people strolling along Deribasivska and Gretska Streets gathered here, fairs and festivities took place here. Odesa developed and grew. In 1863, a monument to Prince Vorontsov was erected on the square near the cathedral. Mykhailo Semenovych Vorontsov was the governor of the Novorossiysk Territory for 21 years and did a lot for the development of Odessa – under his leadership, for example, Primorskyi Boulevard was built. Erected with money collected by the local community, the monument to Vorontsov became the second monument in Odessa after the statue of Catherine II.
Around the same years, a fountain-monument to the city’s water supply system was installed on the square. Residents of the rich, upper part of the city had to pay for the services of water carriers, since there were no natural sources of water up there. The installation of water pipes greatly improved their lives. And directly opposite the cathedral, the Odessa entrepreneur and philanthropist Russov built a profitable house. A profitable house is a type of commercial real estate: they were built to rent out space. In addition to expensive apartments, Russov’s building housed the first Gaevsky Pharmacy in Odesa. Things were going so well for the pharmacists that in 1908 they bought the entire building.
During the Soviet rule, the Transfiguration Cathedral was blown up. Since the cathedral was built on conscience, it was almost impossible to blow it up from below, and then the Bolsheviks blew up the bell tower – and it fell on the cathedral building, broke the dome, and destroyed part of the walls. The graves of Prince Vorontsov and his wife were opened and robbed. They wanted to topple the monument as well, but the power of the tractor was not enough for this, so the prank failed.
In 1999, the cathedral was restored. Today, Cathedral Square is a beautiful architectural ensemble, where the temple building is framed by expertly arranged flower beds. Monuments to Vorontsov and the city water supply stand in their places. A new element of the landscape is exhibitions and sales of paintings by local artists. Numerous cafes have grown up around the square, which are waiting for citizens and guests of the city around the clock. The only thing that darkens the view is the sad appearance of Russov’s house, which has almost collapsed without care. But it is also being restored now, and they promise to return it to its former beauty in 2020.