Odessa catacombs are included in the list of the most famous and popular catacombs in the world. The word “catacomb” itself is of Latin origin and means an underground tomb. It applies to underground chambers that were used for religious rites and burials. But unlike European catacombs, such as the catacombs of Paris in France, Rome, Syracuse, the Capuchins in Italy, Klatovia in the Czech Republic, the catacombs under the Cathedral of St. Stephen in Vienna, the caves of the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra in Kiev – the Odessa caves were not intended for burial. And they are considered the longest, according to some estimates, the length of the underground passages is about 2, 5 thousand kilometers.
Odessa catacombs are unique
Let us dwell in more detail on the history of the origin and the specifics of the Odessa underground. Initially, the city attracted new residents with the benefits that they received when settling. This is duty-free trade, the presence of a port, free sale of wine and salt, ten-year tax exemptions and the presence of shell deposits in the city and the surrounding area. Rakushnyak was and still remains an excellent building material, it is especially valuable in the steppe zone, where there are no forests. This stone began to be mined immediately during the construction of the city. It was transported from the nearest farmsteads Krivaya Balka, Usatovo, Kuyalnik, Moldovanka, and further development was carried out in the city itself.
Why is the total length of the catacombs unknown and there is no plan for them?
And everything is very simple, it is associated with spontaneous and uncontrolled extraction of limestone. In the middle of the nineteenth century, the city already had plots unsuitable for construction, in some areas there were failures and even houses were destroyed. Since 1863, there was a ban on the extraction of stone in certain places of the city, but in fact it was very difficult to control and the police could not cope with it. The supply of stone for construction was a very profitable enterprise for the owners (about 70% of the profit), the quarries received a penny and worked in very difficult conditions for 15-18 hours a day. Many workers went down and stayed in the quarries for several days.
It is interesting that many stone-cutters lived in cave dwellings, their remains are still in Usatovo, Kuyalnik and Nerubaysky.
These houses were carved into the thickness of the limestone layer, it was always cold and dark in them, because the temperature in such a house did not exceed +14 degrees even in summer.
Where are the catacombs located?
But back to the catacombs themselves. There were so-called “mines” under each Odessa house, i.e. cellars that were designed to store food and wine. But enterprising residents of Odessa did not stop at small “mines”, but dug further up to neighboring houses, thereby forming tunnels. And of course, not only food was stored in them, but also many contraband goods.
The criminal side of the dungeon
The “underground city” has been a hideout for many criminals and their scams. There are many stories that the famous crime boss Mishka Yaponchik kept looted things and gold in the catacombs, and there are still rumors about his treasure hidden in the Moldavanka area, where he lived. The story of the hidden “golden ship” still excites the minds of treasure seekers.
Not only were the goods hidden in the catacombs, they also posed a danger to young, beautiful girls who were abducted and hidden there before being sent to brothels in Turkey and Greece. Many women, realizing what they were going to do with them, committed suicide. Whole rooms in the dungeon were equipped for the captives. One high-profile case made it possible to destroy one of the gangs operating in Odessa. So at the time when Duke de Richelieu was the mayor of Odessa, one summer day, Countess Lopukhina, a representative of a wealthy and noble family, was kidnapped. Her search was unsuccessful, then it was decided to search the catacombs. Lopukhina was found in one of the “mines”, the trial over the robbers did not have time to be carried out, since the countess’s fiancé, Prince Trubetskoy, broke into the police station and killed all the offenders. Of course, this is one of the stories with a good ending, but most of the girls were ferried to ships and sailed away forever.
Guerrilla units and catacombs
The catacombs served not only as a refuge for bandits, during the First and Second World Wars, they saved the local population from shelling and helped to wage a partisan war. One of the heroic pages of the Great Patriotic War was associated with the partisan detachments of Molodtsov-Badaev, which did not exist for long, but managed to derail the train with the Nazis, and threw grenades at the Romanian detachment. Life underground was difficult, the detachment consisted of 30-40 people (according to various sources) and was located in the area of the village of Nerubayskoye. The catacombs were equipped with bedrooms, a kitchen, an office of Molodtsov-Badaev himself.
The partisans lived in difficult conditions – they slept on beds cut out of shell rock, the humidity in the premises reached 100%, clothes quickly fell into disrepair, silence and darkness strongly pressed on the psyche, there was not enough food supplies. The underground partisans were easy to expose, their faces turned pale due to their long stay underground, and their clothes smelled of dampness. Guerrilla activity is not yet fully understood and there are many dark spots that are still being studied.
To visit the catacombs, you can go on an excursion outside the city to the village of Nerubayskoye or visit the recently opened museum in the city itself. In more detail, you can familiarize yourself with them by reading our article Excursions in Odessa.