Potemkin Steps – Odessa, Ukraine

Sergei Eisenstein’s 1925 black and white classic, the Battleship Potemkin, brought cinematic fame to Odessa’s Potemkin Steps.  Movie buffs will easily recall the famous scene where innocent civilians were massacred on the Steps and the tension-filled sequence during which a baby, in a pram, is accidentally rolled off the top of the stairways, bounces down the 192 steps and miraculously the pram does not topple over.

Potemkin Steps

Based on historical events, the movie revolves around an uprising on board the Battleship Potemkin in 1905. Conditions on the ship are dreadful and the situation comes to a head when the ship’s doctor declares rancid meat safe to eat. In a show of protest, the sailors buy provisions at the canteen instead of eating the rancid meat.  This angers the Admiral and he orders all those who ate the borsch made with the rancid meat to step under the cannons to show their loyalty, whereas those who did not are to be covered under a tarp and executed. One of the sailors by the name of Vakulinchik pleads with his shipmates to rise up against the officers of the ship. All the officers are killed and the ship is liberated. Vakulinchik unfortunately is killed during the uprising. As a symbol of the revolution, his body is placed on the docks in Odessa harbour. When the citizens of Odessa came to join the Potemkin sailors in their revolt, tsarist troops brutally slaughtered them on the steps, effectively ending the revolt in Odessa. A fleet of battleships then comes to destroy the Potemkin….

Potemkin Steps

The steps were built in 1841 to the design by F. Boffo, an architect who was responsible for many of the classic buildings in Odessa. Previously called the Boulevard Steps or the Gigantic Steps, it was renamed Potemkin Steps after the fateful 1905 mutiny.  The stairways run down from bul Prymorsky, a busy pedestrian zone, down to the port area.  The steps themselves offer two interesting features: When standing at the top of the stairways, all you can see are a few landings, however, when you stand at the base of the steps, all you can see are steps and not the landings. It’s an optical illusion created by varying the dimensions of the  steps.  The differences are small enough that you don’t notice it when climbing the steps.  The variance also have the effect of making the steps look more gigantic and long than it really is.

Cable car - Potemkin Steps

Potemkin Steps today is a recreational area for locals and you’ll see people of all ages here.  For those who  don’t feel like walking up or down the steps, there is of course a cable car that runs from the port level to the top and it’s free.  If you are here on a river cruise, your ship will be berthed near the steps, which makes it easily accessible.



  1. Comment by John Keith

    This is a very nice post. I served at the US Embassy in Kiev in 2001-2004 and made a number of trips to Odessa. I found both the people and the city delightful. Because of a bad knee…and being out of shape, I never walked the steps. While I am writing this, I am watching the Battleship Potemkin movie. Thank you for bring back some pleasant memories.

  2. Comment by Helen

    John, glad you enjoyed the post and thanks for taking the time to leave your comment. The Ukraine was a fascinating place to visit in 2008 and it must have been quite amazing during your time at the US Embassy.
    We enjoyed a magnificent viewing of the Battleship Potemkin movie at the Sydney Opera House with music by Shostakovich performed by the Sydney Symphony. So, it was great for us to be there.

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