erous monuments of antiquity confirm the links between this territory
and the Eastern Mediterranean. In the middle ages, these lands were,
successively, a part of the Kiev Rus, Galich and Volyn Principality, the
Golden Horde, the Great Lithuanian Principality, the Crimean Khanate and
the Osman Empire. In the course of Russian-Turkish wars these lands were
captured by Russia at the end of the 18th century.
Tsar Peter the Great opened a ‘window’ to the West for Russia when he
built St. Petersburg in the swamps bordering on the Baltic Sea.
Catherine the Great wanted a window to the South. In 1764 the Empress
formed the territories newly acquired in the southwest of her empire
into a province called Novorossiya.
In the 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.
Catherine the Great apparently considered making the port of Ochakov,
near the mouth of the Boh river, the effective capital of Novorossiya.
But Ochakov lacked a good natural harbour. On the other hand, de Ribas
and a close collaborator, a Dutch engineer named Franz de Volan,
recommended Khadzhibei as the site of the region’s principal port. Its
harbour 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 harbour safe even for large fleets.
In 1794, Catherine gave her approval for de Ribas and de Volan to build
a harbour. This new settlement was given the name of Odessa. The city
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
"Adyessa" – as it is pronounced by the Russians and Ukrainians.
The unique position of Odessa – 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 centre and 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 was
also done because of the absence of Russia’s trade fleet in the Black
During the free port period 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 goods from overseas.
Odessa grew rapidly, especially in the latter half of the 19th century,
when railroad construction in the southern Ukraine made it Russia's
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