For tourists looking to get beyond a mere surface scratching tour of Odessa and delve deep into the heart of the city’s history, the Odessa Catacombs offer a unique chance to do just that. Stretching for an estimated 2,500 kilometers beneath the city’s streets, the catacombs are the remains of 19th century stone mines that served the city and the surrounding region of the Ukraine. The numerous limestone homes and buildings that have become of staple of Odessa’s classic architecture trace their roots to just below the ground on which they stand.
Once stone mining was banned and the mines were shut down after the Russian Revolution of 1917, the catacombs still continued to play a large part in Odessa’s cultural heritage. During World War II the catacombs served as hiding places for resistance groups struggling against fascist invasion at the hands of the Axis powers. Ukraine’s western proximity to the European mainland forced the country into an unfortunate position serving as a buffer zone between clashing Nazi and Soviet forces. With Odessa representing one of the country’s most developed and valuable areas, it soon became a focal point of the power struggle. The miles upon miles of hidden pathway provided by the city’s catacombs allowed for undetected mobility and unmonitored coordination as Soviet partisans waged a guerilla war against German occupation.
The heroic efforts of resistance groups have been canonized in “The Museum of Partisan Glory,” just outside of Odessa’s border in the town of Nerubayskoye. The museum represents the only officially sanctioned public access to the area’s catacombs. While only a small portion of Odessa’s extensive labyrinth of tunnels has been opened to the general public, hundreds of adventurers and thrill seekers still roam the underground despite the inherent risks and dangers. Odessa’s catacombs have not been fully mapped and many stretches have fallen into disrepair, now far too dangerous for the average traveler’s passage. Though most extreme tourists may indeed survive to marvel at the complex subterranean structure, it is highly recommended that casual visitors stick to the safe and sanctioned portion of the historic catacombs.