Odessa catacombs

What is Odessa catacombs? History

In the end of 18 century, Russian empire conquered the land, that today is southern part of Ukraine. Immediately after the war, empire created a city called Odessa. To build the city, people used wide layers of limestone underground. As a result, appeared largest underground labyrinth, which lately named – Odessa catacombs.

How big are Odessa catacombs

It’s hard to believe, but Odessa catacombs length is 2.5 thousand kilometers (1500 miles). And it is only official catacombs size! Some part if catacombs have even three levels! There is no such phenomena in any place in the world. That is why dozen of tourist want to visit catacombs in Odessa.

Ukraine сatacombs location

Odessa city located on steep sea coasts on south of Ukraine. Fifteen-kilometer zone from Black sea coast inland, has extensive limestone deposits underground. That is the place where Odessa catacombs are located. Most of catacombs are abandoned limestone mines of XIX and early XX centuries, when there was a rapid construction of Odessa city. Extraction of a stone had an accidental character, each builder – on its site. As a result, catacombs located everywhere: under old city, suburbs and also out of Odessa, under small villages – Usatovo and Nerubayskoe.

odessa catacombs map

Odessa catacombs map (small part)

How to visit Odessa catacombs

  • By yourself – highly unrecommended! Yes, it’s not so hard to find entrance to wild part of catacombs, but having no plan of mine passages, they seem to be a real labyrinth, which is very difficult to get out. As a result, one who lost there without light is almost doomed to perish. Visit Odessa catacombs alone is highly dangerous. First of all you need to know how correctly navigate underground and don’t forget basic safety rules.
  • Take a guide – there are number of people, who spent many hours exploring Odessa catacombs for fun. They call themself diggers. Lot of them provide excursions in wild catacombs. There are many options how to visit catacombs with guide. One can get into wild part or visit special museum preserve. Catacombs of Odessa apparently one of most interesting places for tourists.
  • Visit museum – there are couple of such suggestions for tourists. Museum is a good option, because they located in catacombs and totally safe. Nothing can happen with you there. The most famous is Partisan one, opened in USSR times and dedicated to catacombs WW2 history. You only need to get to the museum, buy an entrance ticket and wait for a group to gather. Notice, that one can enter museum only with a group, or with a guide! Also, museum workers make 20 minutes excursion, not more. To hire a guide is always better, because with him one can spend as much time in catacombs, as you want. Also, as a rule, guide tells much more information and usually more interesting.

Catacombs structure

Underground catacombs in Odessa are not homogeneous in their structure. Oldest element of them is karst caves, which arose more than 3.7 million years ago. Other types of underground cavities formed much later, not earlier than beginning of 19th century. At this time began underground mining of saw limestone for construction purposes. Synchronously with the pace of city construction, rapidly increased number of underground cavities.

Huge spaces of abandoned quarries are called “mine fields” and have analogs in Europe. However, total length of the galleries in two and a half thousand kilometers has no one underground massif in the world, except Odessa. Such scales testify to extraordinary rates of development of old city.

What expect inside

odessa catacombs usual tunnel with a wall of bricks

Usual tunnel with a wall of bricks

Complete plans of Odessa catacombs do not exist. Official city government has never sought to investigate them. The air temperature under the ground is +14 throughout the year. It is very pleasant in summer, when temperature on surface reaches +35. Simple walk to catacombs in summer become a very pleasant pastime. Depth of catacombs in some places reaches 40 meeters.

Inside Odessa catacombs on the walls there are various inscriptions. It is a traces of a people from 19th century until now. Inscriptions are very diverse: religious prayers, appeals for help, patriotic appeals of revolutionary times, political caricatures. Small number of poetic texts also exist on the walls of mine tunnels. Most of that “artistic heritage” of catacombs are obscene words. Even underground darkness does not subjugate human desire for self-expression!

Touristic route

odessa catacombs painting of the wall

Pictures on the wall in Odessa catacombs

Catacombs are one of the main tourists attractions in Odessa Ukraine and an important part of cultural layer of the city. In addition that layer bears unique information about everyday culture of Odessa in times of Russian Empire, sometimes reports unexpected information about Second World War, contains paleontological remains of prehistoric animals. Due to this, catacombs tour is one of the most popular types of excursions among tourists.

During Second World War, catacombs used as bomb shelters by civilians. Some of such bomb shelters were settled by several hundred people at a time. This is a unique case of massive underground civilian campsites in the history of Odessa and picture of hard lifetime in the time of war.

Today, for most tourists, Odessa catacombs are exotic and opportunity to spend an interesting time. For the city itself, empty mines underground represent kind of problem. The fact is that in the late XX century catacombs have caused a sharp complication of  engineering and geological situation. More than 40% of old city is located on territory of former stone mining.