Thursday, April 08, 2010

Seeing the Sights

Despite its fame, Odessa is a young city. Founded by Catherine the Great in 1794, two years after the end of the Russo-Turkish War, it was built on the remains of a small Muslim settlement. Before that there were the Scythians, a nomadic tribe of Ancient Iranians who once ruled most of what is now Ukraine, but would have passed out of history entirely if it hadn't been for Herodotus and the second paragraph of the Declaration of Arbroath. All that's left of them in Odessa is an ersatz, glass-covered burial chamber near the top of the Potemkin Steps - the only thing in the entire city that's always spotlessly clean.

When Mark Twain visited here in the 1860s he described it as "having no sights to see". Nonetheless, he spent an enjoyable few days wandering about and eating ice cream. Even allowing for local pride, my students wouldn't disagree. "What are the main tourist attractions in Odessa?" I asked. "The Opera House," they replied as one. "There's nothing else worth seeing."

Things people love taking pictures of here: themselves, themselves and children, themselves in swimsuits (on the local equivalent of Facebook everyone has an album called Pictures of Me), themselves and small bronze sculptures, themselves and the fibreglass cow in front of Steakhouse, themselves and the Karen Millen shop.

1 comment:

Bryan said...

Sod the opera house, any historical city worth its salt has to have a fibreglass cow.