This page was created by James Browning. 

The Imperiia Project: a spatial history of the Russian Empire

Order from on High

On December 11, 1775 Catherine II officially ordered that a harbor and shipyard be established at an appropriate location within the Dnepr estuary, listing a slew of requirements that revealed the Empress’ vision for her Southern border. The port was to be a fortified city capable of building, provisioning, and maintaining a fleet of considerable size. It had to be able to base 20 large warships with all requisite support vessels. Fortifications, warehouses, quarters for officers and workers, and the admiralty headquarters all had to be built on adjacent land, preferably from stone sourced from the right bank of the Dnepr so as to free up lumber for the fleet. This order to build one of the largest shipyards in the empire--in a territory that had less than two years earlier belonged to a foreign power--was not an abstract affectation of imperial power, nor was it meant to be fulfilled gradually over the course of the empire's expansion. The shipyard was to play an integral role in Russia's immediate future and the empress took a great personal interest in every aspect of its development. After conveying her thoughts on Senyavin's report and reasserting her preference for building in Glubokaia Pristan' she impressed upon the admiralty that speed was of the essence:

"We are confident that the Admiralty Board, understanding the importance and suitability of this place, and aware of the necessity to have a harbor in these seas where ships might safely anchor in case of the need of repairs, will endeavor with the zeal and diligence we know it to possess to accomplish its task through the construction of the aforementioned harbor and shipyard so that the construction of ships may commence as soon as possible"

If those words of encouragement were not enough, Catherine II ordered that her 20 large warships, used to indicate the desired size of the harbor, be built within five years.

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