Among Odessa’s most iconic images is the Potemkin Stairs, a giant stairway that has come to be most recognizable emblem of the city. Known as the Boulevard Steps, the Giant Staircase and the Richelieu Steps throughout various times in the city’s history, the Potemkin Stairs date back to 1825, when the first 200 stairs were originally designed. In the years spanning from 1837 to 1841, the staircase was expanded to more closely resemble the colossal stairway that still stands today.
Serving as a formal entrance into the city of Odessa from the from the Black Sea, the stairs scale 27 meters high, extending for 142 meters. To the human eye, the stairs actually appear vary in appearance. In their innovative planning, the Potemkin Stairs were designed to create an optical illusion. From the stairs bottom the large flat landings are not visible, giving off the impression of a steady rise of uninterrupted stairs. From the top down, onlookers can only see a series of landings, as the stairs disappear into the structure. The top step measures at 12.5 meters wide, while the bottom step spans 21.7 meters. From the top this creates the impression the stairs are shorter than in reality, while from the bottom they seem to continue upward much longer than they actually do.
The Potemkin Stairs first graced the public eye in Russian filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein’s epic silent film, The Battleship Potemkin, showing soldiers open fire on a crowd at the stairs on June 14, 1905. The massacre portrayed on the silver screen is actually a fictionalized version of history. Eisenstein chose to recreate the city’s true account of a more sprawling outbreak of violence and consolidate it on the Potemkin Stairs as a symbolic representation of Odessa’s suffering. So famous is the scene in movie history, many historians mistakenly cite the massacre on the Potemkin Stairs as a true historic event, oblivious to the creative liberty Eisenstein took when depicting the actual bloodshed.