PHOTO: Potemkin Stairs in Odessa, Ukraine

Potemkin Stairs in Odessa, Ukraine

I stood at the top of the Potemkin Stairs in Odessa, Ukraine, and contemplated the hike down. No problem, I thought. It looks like a lot of landings and very few steps. I started down but soon realized there were way more steps than I originally thought. Fifty, 100, 150…was I ever going to reach the bottom? Finally I reached the last step, 192, and turned to look backup the staircase. From the bottom it looked like a single staircase with no landings! Had I first seen it from the bottom, I might have decided to ride the Funicular down instead of walking. The Potemkin Stairs in Odessa were purpose built to create this optical illusion. The top step is 41 feet wide and the bottom step is 70.8 feet wide. As a result, a person looking down sees only the landings, while a person looking up sees only steps. Because this photo looks down from the harbor, both the steps and landings are visible.

The Potemkin Stairs in Odessa were constructed to provide access from the city center, which sits on a high plateau, to the commercial harbor on the Black Sea. The stairway was completed in 1841 and the Funicular railway, which is shown at left in the above photo, was added in 1906 to carry people up and down the hillside. The stairs have been known by various names over the centuries, but they received their final moniker in 1955 when, following the Soviet revolution, they were renamed to honor the 50th anniversary of the mutiny on the Battleship Potemkin. That mutiny is largely regarded to be the event that kicked off the Russian Revolution.

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