This page was created by Sara Bobok. 

The Imperiia Project: a spatial history of the Russian Empire

Odessa - Founding

Imperial Daily, a pro-Catherine news source

“Catherine the Great expands Empire once again!”

28 May 1794

By Sara Bobok

Our fearless Tsar has again expanded the territory and opportunity of our beloved empire. After grueling battles and instability on the Southern frontier, our troops finally succeeded in their wars against the Ottomans. In 1774, our empress signed the Treaty of Kuchuk-Kainarji, officially expanding our territory along the Black Sea from the South Boh to the Dnieper River (Herlihy 4). Yet, our empress was not satiated. In 1792, she signed the Treaty of Jassy which granted the Russian Empire full rule over Crimea and reshaped the political landscape of the Black Sea (Herlihy 7). This stability allowed our beloved Catherine to expand.

    Rightly acknowledging the opportunity the Black Sea lends to our empire, Catherine decided to establish a port in the area. There were countless options, but by listening to the thoughtful advice of José de Ribas and Franz de Voland, she chose the city of Khadzhibei due to its deep harbors and calm waters (Herlihy 7).

    On May 27, 1794, Empress Catherine established the city of Odessa in the heart of the Southern Frontier. Catherine wisely bestowed the name “Odessa” upon the city as a tribute to the area’s Greek heritage, to promote female agency through the feminine form of the word, and to attract Greek settlers and merchants (Herlihy 7).

Odessa’s promise

    Today, with its striking limestone cliffs and deep harbors, Odessa poses a great opportunity for our empire (Herlihy 9, 11). Namely, it offers a much desired port to trade with our Southern neighbors. The economic promise of this city will ideally attract countless merchants and settlers, increasing the population and diversity of our great empire. How does Catherine plan to tap into this potential, one might ask?

She first intends to build a foundation for the city, in a very literal sense. She has deployed architects de Ribas and de Voland to create a plan for the city following Western European grid designs and wide streets (Herlihy 13). A customhouse, police station, quarantine, administrative office, stock exchange, censorship office, and church are already under construction (Herlihy 13).

But how will our great Empress control a city that is so distant? She will deploy the same arrangements as organized by the 1785 Charter of Towns (Herlihy 14). The Charter establishes a city council to rule over the people. Though citizen participation may seem low and such distant councils have struggled to retain power in the past, Catherine is hopeful that this plan will come to fruition in Odessa.

Odessa is lacking in settlers – how will we expand the population of our great empire? Fortunately, Catherine has again devised several solutions. Primarily, she is recruiting people from outside of the empire to settle in Odessa, offering them “land, tax exemptions, loans, religious toleration, and other privileges” in return (Herlihy 16). With religious tolerance, she can win the favor of formerly persecuted Turkish subjects who will now more readily stand loyal with the Russian empire than with the Ottomans (Herlihy 16). Additionally, Catherine plans to allow fugitives and runaway serfs to settle in Odessa, increasing its working class population (Herlihy 15).

Lastly, how will Catherine handle the immense economic decisions of the region? She plans to reduce duties on imports and exports, and ultimately eliminate duties completely and encourage free trade with nations who have created trade agreements with our empire (Herlihy 17).

Thus, the events of May 27, 1794, present yet another great achievement for our ever-nascent empire. Catherine the Great has once again shown her prowess and skill as Tsar.


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