July 19, 2010

Odessa, the Last Italian Black Sea Colony

Hi bloggers,

together with Antonina Chaban – our current University Delegate from Ukraine – we will today discover Italian heritage in Odessa, Ukraine:

“The city of Odessa, located in the South of Ukraine, at the Black sea shore, was founded 1794 by immigrants from Genoa and Naples, Venice and Palermo. The precise spot where the city was founded had been originally personally explored and marked by Stephano De Rivarola, the Italian diplomat to Russia.

The first Governor of Odessa was Neapolitan-born Giuseppe De Ribas (1749-1800). During the three years of his tenure (1794-97), Admiral De Ribas managed to build a vibrant city, whose first settlers, developers and actual founders were Italians.
Artists, sculptors, traders and musicians from Genoa, Livomo, Siena, Naples, Venice and Calabria flocked to this new “Europe” in thousands, in search of a better life and promising professional opportunities.

Customs house, wharfs, the port, residential buildings and Opera House were simultaneously built by the Italian settlers, following the projects by Italian architects and with the construction materials, transported from Naples, Genoa, and Livorno.
The first Italian founders of the Russian free port include the following families: De Ribas, Venturi, Buba, Rocco, Trabotti, Grimaldi, Frapolli, Inglesi, Gatorno, and Gaius.
The port correspondence, customs control, and trade matters had all been conducted in Italian, the lingua franca of the Russian Black Sea Coast up until the end of the 19th century.
Only in 1853 the Odessa Italian colony began to disintegrate due to the reverse migration back to Italy and rise of the Russian Empire, the key players in the field were the families of Ralli, Dzerbolini, Rocco, Gorini, Zarifi, Trabotti, Porro, Rossi, and Gari. The entire Russian Empire benefited from the last Odessa Italian colony.

The first Italian immigrants radically shifted the cultural course of Odessa for centuries to come. The Italian language reflected not so much the demographics of the city, but the political, economic, social, and cultural power which the Italian settlers enjoyed since the foundation of Odessa. All the key positions in banking, navigation, port administration, shipping, and different industries were held by Italians.

The Italian language not only prevailed in Odessa business and trade but it would be the favored tongue of the aristocratic salons, opera, schools, and the street. The traces of Italian have remained in the specific Odessa Russian even today.

The first Italian settlers had established the utterly unique permanent European traditions in this most non-Russian, non-Soviet, and non-Ukrainian city, affecting profoundly not only the port and shipping but the cultural institutions as well. Odessa would become the seat of 18 colleges, the centre of Italian studies in Russia, a prominent centre for the study of the Humanities and Sciences, with the most developed musical, theatrical, and artistic training. “Here all breathes Europe” (Alexander Pushkin)
Odessa’s Italianness would become somewhat of a taboo topic in historical discourse of Odessa. The story of the Italian migration to the Black Sea remained expunged from the historiographical accounts for a long period of time.

The Mediterranean image of Odessa was formed by brilliant creations of Boffo, Bernadazzi, Frapolli, Torichelli, Digby, and Delia Acqua and other Italian architects.
Having established a home away from home, Italian immigrants brought to Russia a Mediterranean way of life and cultural sensibility unknown to the rest of the country.”

Makolkin, Anna (2004). A History of Odessa, the Last Italian Black Sea Colony. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press.

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