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Nickolayev church in Cathedral Park


No Odessa building's history is more interesting than the turbulent history of the Spaso-Preobrazhensky Cathedral, which began being rebuilt in 1999.

Cathedral Park/Square Sobornaya Square / Ploshat (Соборная Площадь)

Nickolayev Church
In 1795, just one year after the founding of Odessa, the Nickolayev church was built on Sobornaya square. During construction, Katherine the Great, the royal founder of Odessa, died. Her son and heir, Pavel, profoundly hated everything involving her memory and deeds. The church project was indefinitely suspended. It is said, not without reason, that had Pavel I reigned longer he might have ordered Odessa razed to the ground.

During Vorontsov's tenure the grandiose bell tower was constructed. Designed by Italian architect Torricelli it was separate from the cathedral. The church was finally completed in 1827.

Odessites didn't like how the bell tower was not attached to the cathedral, so the authorities then built a refractory. But the refractory was narrow and dark and Odessites were still unhappy.

So the authorities completely rebuilt the church. It was remodeled with a larger dome and refractory, the bell tower spire and altar were changed, and two side-chapels were added. After this extensive reconstruction the cathedral became one of the biggest in Russia. The cathedral was almost 50 meters wide and over a hundred meters long. It could now accommodated over 10,000 people. It was the pride of Odessa.

The Cathedral was one of the most important monuments of the city's history and culture. It's domes were used as the main Odessa navigational landmarks for sailors. Many people were attracted to the tombs of famous bishops of Odessa and the mausoleum of Count Mikhail S. Vorontsov, the governor-general of Novarussia and his wife Elizabeth.

Cathederal blown up by Stalin

The Cathedral in Soviet times
But after the Soviet revolution the cathedral's fate was decided. In 1919 the Cathedral was looted. In 1932 it was closed down. The square was officially renamed Soviet Army square, but unlike the over 170 other street and park name changes, the newer name never stuck with Odessites. Then the remains of the Vorontsov's were quietly reburied in a suburban cemetery. In 1936 Stalin order the Cathedral destroyed. In a cowardly manner the cathedral was dynamited in the night. Bricks recovered from the site were used to build a school.

According to some sources, the eye doctor Filatov (See page**), a very religious man, was deeply disturbed by the destruction of the cathedral. Legend says that he succeeded in making the Odessa City Council pass a decision to install a fountain on the place of Cathedral altar. First, so no one would trample the sacred ground. And, secondly, that a quiet tear would drop into the fountain in memory of the murdered temple.

The Cathedral during Nazi occupation
To rebuild the cathedral was an idea of the Romanians who occupied Odessa during WWII. It was only five years after the cathedral had been blown up, and it was still a very new wound on Odessite's consciousness. The occupying authorities realized there was no better way to establish good relations with the populace than to restore the destroyed cathedral.

A geological survey established that the foundations were intact. A group of native architects were
dispatched to Romania to study Romanian monuments of church architecture. Even building materials was brought in. Everything was ready for the rebuilding but then the tide of war turned and the Red Army retook Odessa.

The Cathedral after independence
Odessites talked about the restoration of the Cathedral after independence, but the matter was discussed on a purely theoretical and speculative level. During this time a memorial cross was erected next to the fountain. For a time it appeared that the fate of the Odessa cathedral was going to be similar to memorials throughout the former USSR: to make an outline of the destroyed edifice on the ground (with bricks or with paint if money was short) and to build a small chapel in the center of it.

Undoubtedly, such a decision could be passed in any place but Odessa. The citizens' disgust was
sincere: "What is going to become of the Cathedral Square? The city's principal square will look
like a graveyard!"

One day some eccentric Odessites brought shovels to the square and started clearing up the
foundations. They did this for several days and dug up some interesting exhibits. And then that was it: nobody would give money for restoration, and for two and a half years the pits were open to the sun and rain.

Mayor Bodelan
When Mayor Bodelan came to power in 1997, he felt that the Cathedral, was the only "Odessa's national idea that unites us all". To protect against accusations of improper handling of the scarce budget a charity organization was set up under the name of "The Black Sea Orthodox Church Foundation" with participation of the clergy, architects and builders.

The church has begun to be rebuilt since 1999. The architects have only the old paintings and drawings to guide them in the rebuilding. The bell tower was finished in 2001, miraculously significantly under the estimated cost.

In 2001 a television marathon garnered over one hundred thousand dollars for the cathedral. But sometimes things happen that cannot be foreseen by any planner or official. In early 2002 a large crowd gathered on the Cathedral Square to watch the consecration of the start of the main (upper level) church walls. The usual scene was suddenly disturbed by the audience launching a collection: someone would take off a ring, a gold chain, or earrings... It was to become the talk of all Odessa...

The main foyer is occasional open for visitors during construction. Inside there are several pictures and a history of the former cathedral.

While this project is ongoing, the easiest way to give a donation to this project is the drop box inside Gastronome/Super market No. 1. (On the corners of Deribasovskaya (Дерибасовская) and Preobrazhenskaya (Преображенская)

--Adapted from the New Times article by Georgy Osipov

Public Toilet

At the base of the cathedral are three attended outdoor toilets

Fountain in Cathedral Park
The Cathedral Park fountain, at the rear base of the cathedral, was built to celebrate and honor the 1873 Odessa water-pipe construction from the Dniester River, which alleviated much of Odessa's water problems. (See box "Odessa's water problems")

Football fans and chess players in Cathedral Park
Along the Preobrazhenskaya (Преображенская) side of the Cathedral square avid football fans gather in all weather to discuss their favorite teams. Odessites also gather to discuss politics, and in the summer, old men gather to play chess.



Continue your virtul tour by walking to the
Vorontsov Monument in Cathedral Park
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