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Portrait with two centuries as a backdrop

Odessa celebrated not so many jubilees. Maybe that's the reason why on the eve of yet another anniversary ending in two or at least one zero, the debates about how old in reality the Lady of the South is flare up anew.

Ladies are not asked about their age

Cities wearing women's names are quite immune to a sweet ladies' habit of slightly diminishing their age. Rather the opposite is true, especially if the city has a Southern temperament and a young seething blood running in its veins. This is the case with Odessa.

The last attempt to make Odessans happy with a sensation took place not long before the bicentennial of the city. The authors of the "discovery" made a statement: Odessa is not 200 years old, but all 600 instead! A mention of Khachibei (Khadzhibei) in an old Lithuanian chronicle was taken for a new date of birth.

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Witty Odessans, with some serious historians in their midst, were perturbed and not without reason: why so little? Due to some archeological excavations it is a well known fact that in the center of Odessa there was an ancient Greek colony Borisphen, founded back in 647 B.C. Why not to celebrate all the 2650 years of the city's foundation instead of 600 or 200?

The celebration of the anniversary could be even more impressive if the age of burial mounds and archeological complexes of Neolithic settlements discovered long ago and explored within the modern city boundaries was to taken into account. The oldest — the nearby modern settlements oil Usatovo and Slobodka-Romanovka are of world renown — they are 6000 year old — what a jubilee!|

From the times of yore, an unending; line of tribes and peoples was attracted to these shores. In different epochs the Cimmerians, Scythians, ancient Greeks and Romans, Sarmatians, Goths, Huns, Petchenegs (same as Patzinaks), Polovets (Kipchak), Nogai People (sometimes referred to as Caucasian Mongols), and naturally, Slavs, dominated here.|

But all that was but a turbulent pre¬history of the city which you are lucky to be visiting or about to visit.

A true date of Odessa's foundation is well-known —August, 22 (September, 2, new style) of 1794. On this day in the presence of Joseph de Ribas (Osip Deribas) and the military engineer Franz de Voland, .who was the author of the city plan, the port foundations were laid and the first furrow was drawn for the foundations of civilian structures.

Conqueror of Khadzhibei, founder of Odessa

As it is with all new things, the birth of Odessa was not without hardships. The rapid growth of the young city aroused indignation in many influential high officials in both Russian capitals — Moscow and Saint Petersburg. The cities on the Northern Black Sea coast and Crimea founded or annexed by Russia earlier had their own opinion on what place had to be the number one city and the chief port on the Black Sea. But the admiral de Ribas continued his work "on building the city of Odessa and the port of the chief master" with the same courage, ingenuity and persistence which he had demonstrated when fighting for Izmail and Khadzhibei.

By the way, most likely, it's due to his "magic touch" we jumped so easily from one name to another: from Khadzhibei to Odessa. In any case, the version of the new name's origin connected with him seems to be the funniest and very amusing in a typical Odessa style. When the hydro-geological research had been done on the place of a would-be city, de Ribas received a report in French as French was the spoken language in those years: "Assez d'eau" ("asse d'o") — "there is enough water". But very soon it became obvious that the situation with potable water was exactly the opposite which ironic De Ribas made noticeable after reading the report and reversing "Asse d'o" to educate the negligent officials. So it became "Odessa" which sounds very melodiously, doesn't it?

There are quite a number of versions of how the modern name came into being. In the late of the XVIII century it was believed that in ancient times not far from Khadzhibei there was a Greek settlement called Odessos after which the Russian Empress named the new city changing the ending to the feminine form.

Odessos in reality was where modern Varna today is and the ancient city Odess or Ordess was closer to modern Odessa in the estuary of the coastal lake Tiligul.

According to another version, the word "Odessa" denotes "the harbor of Ulysses (Odysseus)". According to the legend, the ancient hero and traveler visited these places after the Trojan War.

Anyway, the next year after her foundation Odessa got her new name which became much loved in a while.

But in just a year true hardships began.

Three thousand oranges - Odessa’s way of "getting it her way"

After Catherine II died, Paul I in order to spite his much hated mother halted her many previous endeavors. By His Majesty's decree "the expedition of construction of a southern fortress, and the port of Odessa" was abrogated.

De Ribas was summoned to Saint Petersburg which was understood both by his friends and enemies as a prelude to incarceration.

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The misgivings turned all wrong. As it became known afterwards, nothing except death could prevent this man from achieving his goals. Besides the admiral was not only a skillful military commander but also a shrewd diplomat. Instead of imprisonment in the capital, de Ribas received an honorary appointment to Admiralty. Thus, in her hard times Odessa got an influential intercessor in Saint Petersburg.

When by the beginning of 1800-ies the decline in the city affairs got to grow worse, the Odessa city council acting upon de Ribas's consent forwarded an appeal for a big 25 year loan from “His Imperial Majesty's treasury" for the construction of the city and the port. De Ribas's knowledge of the court's morals and manners as well as of Paul's I eccentricities is felt in the decision to send "to the highest court a gift of the fruit of orange of the best quality in number of three thousand from the citizens of Odessa". The tribute made an impression and the appeal of the city council was satisfied.

The duke of the Odessans

The golden age of Odessa began with the accession to the throne of Alexander I and the appointment of his trusted agent and a friend of old – the duke Armand de Richelieu, a descendant of the all-powerful cardinal de Richelieu of the times of Luis XIII, as the Odessa city governor.

Richelieu, whom the Odessans take the liberty to call “Duke” as the title sounds in French, not only followed in the de Ribas’s footsteps, but founded the grounds for further well-being of the city.

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He achieved a considerable reduction of the entrance duty, and the return of the fifth part of all the custom duties to the city treasury. The city's prosperity for a long time onward was secured by the implementation of Richelieu’s idea of establishing a "Porto Franco" zone (the duty-free port zone) in Odessa by his successor in the position of the city governor count Alexander Langeron.

Richelieu applied to the capital for opening a city theatre, educational establishments, and the commercial court; he placed the work on beautification and equipping the city with modern by that time services and utilities on a broad footing. It is I thousand because of his efforts on attracting useful foreigners" that the immigration to Odessa of Bulgarians Greeks, Albanians, citizens from Germanic states, Switzerland from European and Asian I provinces of the Russian Empire became of mass number. In this way Odessa received her future bankers and entrepreneurs, merchants and ploughmen, craftsmen, engineers, scientists, and men of art: those who would lay down the foundation of her glory. Having returned back to France and becoming in 1815 the country's head of the government, Richelieu interceded about establishing a Lyceum in Odessa. Grateful Odessans named it after him — the Richelieu Lyceum. And the duke gave his own library and 13 thousand francs to his "godchild". Later he would donate to the Lyceum all his life income in Russia reserved for him by the Emperor Alexander I.

Young, attractive, titled ...

Rapid economic growth, profitable of export of grain to Europe, busy trade with east and west, provision of the city with amenities according to the highest European standards attracted to Odessa the representatives of all walks of life. Aristocracy was lured by the possibility of spending their vacations and being entertained away from the severe capital merchants - by gains, working people - by decent wages.

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Free air of Odessa finished the creation of a popular myth of her as, of a "Golden city": the old dream of freedom and well-being seemed to find its realization right here. Odessa did not know serfdom. Even the runaway serfs would become free here. Every citizen was exempted for 10 years from taxes and military service, and received a patch of land for house construction.

Not by the monarchal favor, not out of the enthusiastic travelers' mouths but rather from her own citizens Odessa received her most exalted title — "Odessa-mama". This genes-rooted attitude towards the native city as towards a living creature, heart-felt connection between "the prosperity of the city and personal well-being" (D.Atlas) in the long run made the exceptional position of a young provincial center unshakable in the history of a huge, more than a thousand-year old, country. And from now on neither the scheming of powerful enemies, nor the plague or collapse of the grain market; neither wars — one more destructive than the other, nor the horrors three revolutions or the following afterwards decades of Soviet stagnation could possibly erase Odessa's uniqueness and the ineradicable local patriotism.

It was that feeling that made Odessa a stronghold on the way of The Nazis in this land during the years of the Great Patriotic war( World War II). It resulted in yet another title among so many received by the Pearl of the South — the "Hero city".

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