Exploring the catacombs in Odessa

No place transmits the intimacy of Odessa as its estimated 3.000 km of catacombs. The network of tunnels under the city and its surrounding region gather all aspects of Odessan history: mining of limestones, important political moments, crime, legends, bones of ancient animals, extravagant experiences such as a birthday party in the catacombs and wars (including the II World War). Enigma is not enough to describe what they preserve!

I’m grateful for Irina, who guided me along the tunnels and helped me to understand the history and facts around the catacombs in Odessa and why they are important to local history.

The catacombs are spread all over the city, but not interconnected. Initiated by the mining of limestones, that were used to build most of the local houses in Odessa until 19th century, they started to be used as pathways for local smugglers after abandoned by construction industry.

Sew used for mining in Odessan catacombs

The walls sewed by modern machines are evidently smooth. Take a look at the picture below:

Pictures explaining modern sew used later for mining in Odessan catacombs. Odessa, Ukraine

The one I visited is located at Razumovskaya Street, 33 — in cyrillic Разумовская, 33 — under 30 meters of depth.

Inside the tunnels along the wild catacombs. Odessa, Ukraine

No catacomb is located in the city centre since the mining was forbidden in central areas in the first half of 20th century due to the damage the intensive mining was causing to the surrounding buildings.

During the Soviet period, the catacombs in Odessa acquired importance as perfect points for shelter in case of nuclear attack, one of the biggest fears fed by the propaganda (from URSS and from USA) in the Cold War. Along the catacombs, it is exposed folders communicating the Soviet propaganda and evacuation policies in case of nucelar war. In the former URSS, every city should have a bunker, and guess where were located the bunkers in Odessa?! Surely at the catacombs!

Soviet folder messaging to prepare in case of nuclear attack. Odessa catacombs, Ukraine
Soviet folder messaging on how to proceed in case of nuclear attack. Odessa catacombs, Ukraine

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990, the catacombs have been abandoned by local government despite of their historical and touristic value. Currently they are maintained by private initiatives.

Moreover the tunnels that were projected to be nuclear shelters, there are other tunnels not modified by reforms, the so called wild catacombs.

Along the tunnels in the wild catacombs. Odessa, Ukraine

It’s still possible to see doors that were used as secret passages by criminal in the old times and doors that connected to factories in case of nuclear attack, as shown in the 2 pictures below.

Recreation of a hiding place where criminals used to meet in the catacombs. Odessa, Ukraine
Door of a factory or some civil organization connected to the catacombs in case of nuclear attack. Odessa, Ukraine

Another interesting aspect I could see in the catacombs was a masonic drawing signing that masons used to meet there secretly due to the prohibition of masonry.

Masonic signs in the catacombs. Odessa, Ukraine

No less interesting was the written sign in Russian “проверено”, which means checked. There’s a story that bombs were hidden at the catacombs during the II World War and local soldiers went to check if the tunnels were mined (I don’t understand about guns, feel free to correct me if you know precisely).

проверено that in Russian means checked signing no mine was found. Odessa, Ukraine

PS: You can check the pictures I take on my Instagram account andref.anjos and through the hashtag #feelukraine.

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