Illustrated Description Of Russia

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The governments which are classed under the general name of Southern Russia, are Bessarabia, Kherson, Ekatherinoslav, Taurida (with the Crimea), and the Don Cossacks ; and include that portion of the empire resting on the Black sea and the sea of Azov, and extending from the government of Astrakhan on the east to the Danube and its important tributary the Pruth, which form the boundary of Russia on the west, separating the empire from the principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia, the occupation of which by the armed forces of Russia led to the war of 1854 between that government and Turkey and the western powers of Europe. The territory covered by these governments consists principally of the steppes, an interesting feature of Russian topography, which will form the subject of a future chapter.

Bessarabia, once the eastern division of Moldavia, and now the most southwestern government of European Russia, is principally situated between the forty-fifth and forty-eighth degrees of north latitude, and the twenty-seventh and thirty-first degrees of east longitude. It is bounded south by the Danube; north and east by the Dniester and the Black sea; west by the Pruth, which separates it from Moldavia, and by the Beckowina, part of Austrian Galicia. It thus forms, between two rivers, a strip of territory three hundred and seventy-two miles long, by fifty of medium breadth, and comprises an area of about sixteen thousand square miles.

On nearing the maritime borders, the province gradually widens, and naturally divides itself into two portions. The portion named by the Tartars Budjak, is composed of a flat, reaching to the seashore, between the mouths of the Danube and the lower course of the Dniester, and has the common aspect of the Russian steppes, being chiefly suited to the breeding of stock. No trees, a few shrubs only, are observed near the rivers; the lakes, or stagnant waters, are covered with reeds; and in the plains between the marshes, the ox, buffalo, and bison, wander among pastures where the herbage rises to the height of their horns. The horsa and the sheep exist in a wild state. The northern portion presents a hilly country, beautifully undulated, covered with noble forests, and extremely fertile. Wheat, barley, and millet, are the only species of grain that are raised, yielding from sixty to a hundred fold. Hemp, flax, and tobacco, are also produced in considerable quantities.

The climate is in general mild, salubrious, and agreeable; the grape, the finer kinds of fruit, and melons, growing in the open air. The chief mineral product is salt, obtained from lakes in the Budjak. Saltpetre, coal, alabaster, marble, and lime, are also found. Ismail, Akermann, Bender, Kichiney (the capital), Biltsy, and Choczim, are its chief towns.

In the Budjak territory are met Russians, Cossacks, Germans, Jews, Bulgarians, Swiss vine-dressers, gipsies, together with Greek and Armenian traders. The northern part of the province, again, is almost entirely inhabited by the Moldavian race, the line of their villages extending along the Dniester, to near Akermann.

Bessarabia was the fairest and most productive portion of Moldavia at the beginning of the present century, and perhaps has more capabilities, natural and commercial, than any portion of the Russian empire of the same extent. Yet, till very recent years, it has been strangely neglected, being poorly cultivated, and in many places almost deserted. The Russian government has established, in different parts of the territory, colonies of Bulgarians, Germans, Cossacks, and even some heretofore-wandering gipsy tribes.

The people of Bessarabia are essentially agricultural; few of them take to trades: the few of those that exist in the country are entirely of the domestic kind. Of what is understood by the term manufactures, there are none, with the exception of tanneries, distilleries, and tallow and soap works. A good deal of inferior wine is made. The breeding of cattle is an important occupation of the inhabitants.

The Moldavian peasants are generally frank, cheerful, and hospitable; but are said by the Russians to be indolent. Hommaire de Hell, however, asserts that in the Moldavian villages the houses are usually kept in the neatest order, and generally surrounded with gardens and fruitful orchards. The education of the people is at the lowest ebb.

Bessarabia once formed the eastern district of the Roman province of Dacia. After various vicissitudes consequent upon the fall of that empire, it was invaded by the Asiatic Turks, and became a portion of European Turkey. It was ceded to the Russians by the treaty of Bucharest in 1812. At first, the Bessarabians were allowed to retain their peculiar laws and privileges undisturbed; but misunderstandings soon arose, and since 1829 the administrative institutions of the country have been assimilated to those of the rest of the empire.

Kichinev, or Kishenau,the capital of Bessarabia, is situated on the Biok, a tributary of the Dniester. Formerly only a small, miserable town, it is now adorned with numerous handsome buildings, both public and private. It has fourteen churches, a gymnasium, and ten other schools; a library, and numerous manufactures of woollen cloth, &c. It has a population of forty-five thousand.

Ismail is situated on the left bank of the arm of the Danube called Kilia, forty-three miles above the Black sea, and one hundred and twenty southwest of Odessa. It is strongly fortified, and being near the Turkish frontier, forms an important military station. It contains a magnificent palace, a Greek and an Armenian church, and a cloister. Its harbor is good, but its commerce is not as great as formerly; the chief exports are grain, hides, tallow, &g. The customhouse and quarantine are of the first class. Owing to the shallowness of the water over the bar of the Kilian mouth, vessels bound for Ismail generally enter the Danube by the Sulineh or middle mouth of the river.

This town was long in possession of the Turks. In 1790, a large Russian army, under Suwarrow, laid siege to it, but were repulsed by the garrison in eight successive assaults on the fortress. The Turks shouted and jeered, but Suwarrow determined to renew the attack. Among the eccentricities of this famous general, was his habit of walking out alone in his camp long before daybreak, and saluting the first sentinel on duty whom he met with a loud crow like a cock! On the night of the first of December, knowing that the Turks were keeping a religious festival, Suwarrow issued the following laconic proclamation to his troops: "To-morrow morning I shall rise at four o'clock, wash myself, say my prayers, give one loud crow, and take Ismail!" He kept his word: his troops rushed forward to the ninth assault; and although the Turks manfully defended the walls, the Russians finally scaled them, carried the fortress by storm, and put most of the garrison to the sword. The whole town was then given up to rapine and pillage, and made a heap of ruins. From this wanton destruction it has never fully recovered, but it is improving. Its present population is about twenty-two thousand.

The maritime government of Kherson, or Cherson, lies between the forty-sixth and forty-ninth degrees of north latitude, and the twenty-ninth and thirty-fourth degrees of east longitude; and is bounded on the north by the governments of Poltava and Kiev, on the northwest by Podolia, on the west by Bessarabia, on the south by Taurida and the Black sea, and on the east by Ekatherinoslav. Its greatest length from east to west is two hundred and forty miles, and its greatest breadth from north to south about one hundred and sixty miles, containing an area of thirty-six thousand square miles.

With the exception of that part of the government which borders on Podolia, and consists of the last ramifications of the Carpathians, and a tract of hilly land on the banks of the Dnieper, the whole surface is one uninterrupted steppe, destitute of trees, but covered with long grass. The soil consists generally of a mixture of loam and sand, not unfavorable to vegetation. The fertility increases inward from the sea, but ceases on approaching the hills. There is some good ground on both sides of the Boug, but between that river and the Dnieper, and along the shores of the Black sea, a dry, barren sand prevails. In many parts the soil is strongly impregnated with saltpetre. The chief rivers of the government are, the Dnieper, which waters both its northern and its southern, frontiers; the Dniester, which separates it frpm Bessarabia; and the Boug, which traverses it a little to the west of its centre. It chief lakes are the Beloin, Jaiskoie, and Sasyk.

The climate is diversified, and subject to great fluctuations. In winter the rivers are frozen for a short time, and in summer the heat rises to about ninety degrees Fahrenheit. Even this heat is often followed by cold nights, and by keen blasts from the north, which injure vegetation. Still both the vine and the mulberry thrive. Among the hills of the north good timber grows, and is extensively used by the navy of the Black sea.

Agriculture is in a defective state, but considerable attention is paid to gardening, and cherries, melons, and all kinds of vegetables, are plentifully raised. Pasture being both good and extensive, the rearing of cattle may be regarded as the staple employment. The easy communication by the Black sea enables Kherson to carry on a good transit trade, particularly by its port of Odessa; but its own exports are only wool, tobacco, tallow, butter, cheese, caviar, and cattle. Its principal towns are Kherson (the capital) and Odessa.

The inhabitants are chiefly of Russian descent, including Cossacks, but the number of Germans has been estimated at twenty-five thousand; and there is a considerable mixture of other races, as Moldavians, Wallachians, Tartars, Armenians, Greeks, Jews, &c.

Kherson, the capital of this government, lies on the right bank of the Dnieper, about fifteen miles above its estuary. It is a place of great extent, and is regularly built; but is in a very dilapidated state, and has lost almost all its former importance in consequence of the rise of Odessa. It is divided into four parts — the citadel, the admiralty, the Greek, and the military suburbs. In the first are the different government offices, and the residences of the governor and other officials, the courts of justice, the cathedral, the arsenal, and barracks. In the second are extensive docks, building-yards, and storehouses, which have almost ceased to be used. The Greek suburb is inhabited principally by citizens, and contains three churches (a Greek, a Roman catholic, and a Russian) and an extensive market-place. The military suburb has only three streets, one church, and a number of mean houses, occupied chiefly by mechanics and sailors. The port, owing to neglect, has become difficult of access, and its trade, with the exception of that in timber, which is still extensive, is chiefly transit to Odessa. The chief public works are the establishments for the washing and cleaning of wool, one of which employs six hundred hands. The population is about thirty thousand.

Howard the philanthropist died of fever here, on the 20th of January, 1790. Over his grave, about three miles north of the town, is an obelisk, erected by the emperor Alexander.

Kherson was founded in 1778, by Prince Potemkin, the powerful and wealthy favorite of Catherine II. When that empress made her famous tour to the Crimea in 1787, accompanied by Potemkin and an immense suite, the prince, in order to excite still further her already-inordinate ambition for conquest, caused a guide-post to be erected on the route, with this significant inscription: "The road to Constantinople!" The hint was not lost: the very next year Catherine once more engaged in war with the Turks, in which the Ottoman empire would have been utterly subverted but for a combination of the western powers. Prince Potemkin lies buried in the vault of the cathedral in Kherson. The emperor Paul ordered his body to be taken up and deposited "in the first hole that could be found," but the command was in some way evaded.

Odessa, the principal mercantile city of southern Russia, is situated on the northern shore of the Black sea, ninety miles west-southwest of Kherson, and three hundred and ninety miles north of Constantinople. The growth of this emporium has been quite extraordinary — its foundations having been laid, by order of the empress Catherine II., so late as 1792, after the peace of Jassy, with the Turks. It was intended to serve as an entrepot for the commerce of the Russian dominions on the Black sea, and has, in a great measure, answered the intention of its founders. It has been said, indeed, that a better locality might have been chosen; and in proof of this, it is stated that there are no springs nor fresh water within three miles of the town; that the vicinity is comparatively barren and without wood; and that, not being on or near the mouth of any great navigable river, its communications with the interior are difficult and expensive. That these considerations have great weight is clear; but, on the other hand, the situation has the advantage of being central and salubrious. The bay, or roadstead (the figures on which in the above engraving give in fathoms the depth of the soundings) is generally open and easy of access, is extensive, the water deep, and the anchorage good. The port, which is artificial, being formed by two moles, is fitted to accommodate three hundred ships, and has a lazaretto, on the model of that of Marseilles. The inconvenience arising from the want of water has been obviated by the cutting of a canal, by which it is conveyed to the town; and, on the whole, it may be doubted whether any position could have been chosen so well suited to serve as an entrepot. Latterly, the vicinity has also been signally improved by the formation of many gardens, and by the planting of extensive vineyards.

Map of Odessa

Map of Odessa
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The town is well built of soft, calcareous stone; but the houses being, for the most part, detached from each other, there are but few handsome streets. But a more serious defect is, that the streets are generally unpaved; and after rain the ground is so deep that, according to Mr. Eliott, " it is not uncommon for gentlemen to be obliged to leave their carriages in quagmires in the middle of the streets, and to send oxen to drag them out!" Some years since, a caricature of the streets was published, which represented a Frenchman, just arrived from Marseilles, sticking up to his knees in the mud, and exclaiming, "Je me fixe ici!" and under this was written, " How to establish one's self at Odessa!" In dry weather, owing to the limestone cliff on which the city stands, it is excessively dusty. But some of the principal streets are now either paved or macadamized, and in this respect the city has been materially improved. Toward the sea the city is defended by some batteries, and on its eastern side is a citadel, which commands the town and port. The space comprising the city and a small surrounding district, to which the franchise of the port extends, is bounded by a rampart.

Though it can not be called a manufacturing town, Odessa has some fabrics of coarse woollen and silk goods ; and has extensive tallow-refineries, breweries, distilleries, ropewalks, &c. The trade includes, among other articles, grain, linseed, wool, iron, hides, copper, wax, caviar, isinglass, potash, furs, cordage, sailcloth, tar, beef, butter, and tallow. The last is the second great staple; but the first, and that which has made the name of Odessa familiar throughout the commercial world, is grain, the larger part of which is shipped to Great Britain.

The granaries in Odessa are worthy of notice; they are remarkably well built with the stone found here. That of Sabansky, now occupied as a schoolhouse, situated, on the ravine so called, is of immense extent, and has an imposing appearance from the streets looking toward the Lazaretto, The public slaughtering-houses are also on a large scale: many thousands of cattle are there annually boiled down for their tallow; it is a singular but not a very agreeable spectacle.

Favored as Odessa is by its position on the sea, " it is surrounded on the land side," says Murray, "by a dreary steppe of so intractable a soil, that trees and shrubs, with the exception of the acacia, rarely attain any size, and in many places will not even live. The narrow strip along the seashore above mentioned is the only oasis of vegetation in the neighborhood of the city. Artesian borings have been made in the town to a depth of six hundred feet, for water, but hitherto without success. Fuel is likewise very dear."

View of the City and Harbor of Odessa

View of the City and Harbor of Odessa
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Odessa enjoys an etablissement des Bains, situated at the foot of the Boulevard, which is much frequented during the summer months, especially by Poles, who come here to sell their grain, and disburse their money in pianofortes, English agricultural implements, &c. German mineral waters are sold at an establishment in the town garden. Another institution worthy of mention is the Richelieu lyceum, a commercial college, in which the sciences and ancient and modern languages are taught by professors, chiefly German. There is, perhaps, no town in the world in which so many different tongues may be heard as in the streets and coffeehouses of Odessa, the motley population consisting of Russians, Tartars, Greeks, Jews, Poles, Italians, Germans, French, &c. At the Parlatoire of the Quarantine they may be heard in perfection. This is the place where the captains of vessels and the brokers and merchants of the town meet to settle their business; and here in little cells, but separated from one another by a wire grating, so that no contact can take place, parties can discuss their affairs without being overheard. There is a botanical garden near Odessa, but the difficulties of soil, drought, and frost, are highly injurious to the growth of plants.

The Greek and other bazars merit mention. There is no regular market-place (Gostinoi dvor}, as in other cities, but the Privosdni bazar is an excellent spot for observing local and national peculiarities, especially of the Moldavians, Jews, and gipsies. The latter are, for the most part, smiths; they live in tents, eat hedgehogs, and hocuss as in other countries. The women braid their hair into twenty tails, like the Tartars, smoke all day long, and, notwithstanding their wild and savage appearance, are not destitute of beauty; they have fine black eyes and well-proportioned figures.

There are, in the neighborhood of Odessa, as previously remarked, large vineyards. In that of Count Woronzoff are from sixty to eighty thousand vines ; the wine made from these grapes, however, is not so good as that of the Crimea. Vast numbers of melons are also raised in the gardens in the environs of the city; some of them are of the most delicious flavor, and so cheap that half the population live upon them and black bread during the summer: the universal favorite is the watermelon, which, if placed in ice for a short time before dinner, is in this season a most grateful fruit. The stone-fruit is very poor.

Admiral Ribas was the first person who made any improvements in Odessa, but he was thwarted in his plans. In the year 1803, his measures were renewed; the population, however, as in all commercial towns of sudden growth, was not formed of the best materials, being composed mainly of adventurers from all parts of the Levant, runaway serfs, and other itinerant persons.

When the emperor Paul ascended the throne, in 1796, he gave the town considerable privileges; but its prosperity is chiefly owing to the duke de Richelieu, a French immigrant, who was subsequently appointed governor, and who, by his judicious administration, brought the commerce of the town into a very flourishing state. The principal streets were laid out by him, and his amiable and charitable disposition was such, that his departure was sincerely regretted by all classes. With every opportunity of enriching himself, he is said to have left Odessa with a small portmanteau containing his uniform and two shirts, the greater part of his income having been disbursed in relieving the distresses of a portion of the population, who were always arriving in the greatest state of destitution.

By an imperial ukase, in 1817, Odessa was declared a free port for a period of thirty years. In 1822, however, a rumor having spread that the freedom was about to be abolished, the foreign merchants were on the point of quitting the town, when the order was rescinded, and Count Langeron, the governor, who had advocated this measure, dismissed. The port has remained free up to the time of the existing war (1854), and, through the exertions of Count Woronzoff, has become the most flourishing one in the Black sea. His house, a princely mansion, is on the cliff at the end of the Boulevard, and, when resident here, he is particularly attentive to foreigners passing through.

The exchange is situated at the other extremity of the Boulevard; the interior is handsome: balls are held in the principal room during the winter season, and are very numerously attended. The theatre is in the large square, near the Hotel de Richelieu, Italian operas and French plays are performed here throughout the year. There is likewise a Russian theatre, for the accommodation of the Slavonic inhabitants.

The principal promenade is on the Boulevard, which on Saturday evenings is, by a sort of common consent, left to the Jews, who reside here in great numbers. There is in the centre of this walk a bronze statue of the duke de Richelieu; he is looking toward the sea, and facing a monster staircase, which has been built on arches, and reaches from the Boulevard to the shore: this has cost an enormous sum of money, and its strength as well as use is so problematical, that an Odessa wag observed that Richelieu "would, in all probability, be the first person to descend it!"


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The museum and library are in the same house with the bureau of the military governor, situated opposite the Hotel de Petersbourg, and in the very centre of the Boulevard. The library is small, but well chosen; the museum contains many objects of antiquity from the site of ancient Greek colonies in this part of the world, particularly from those of Olbia, Cherso-nesus, Kertch, Sisopolis, &c. Some of the vases and medals are worthy of observation, and a gold one of the time of Alexander the Great is in remarkable preservation. And last, though not least in interest, is a japanned flat candlestick, once the property of the philanthropic Howard: it is preserved with great care. The sight of this relic will call up a host of feelings connected with the remembrance of his fate, and emotions of admiration and respect for his unwearied exertions in the cause of humanity. Howard's last words to his friend Priestman are characteristic: "Let no monument or monumental inscription whatsoever mark the spot where I am buried; lay me quietly in the earth, place a sun-dial over my grave, and let me be forgotten." A plain brick obelisk, before alluded to, erected by the emperor Alexander, marks the spot where the dust of the philanthropist reposes ; but, beyond this, his dying wish has been regarded, saving, of course, its concluding clause: he will not soon be forgotten.

The prosperity of Odessa sustained a severe check in the war of 1854, during which its trade was cut off; and it was bombarded by the Anglo-French fleet, under Admiral Dundas, who destroyed a great part of the fortifications, and sunk many Russian ships-of-war in the harbor. The population is probably about seventy-five thousand.

The town of Nikolaiev is situated at the confluence of the Ingul and Boug, thirty-six miles northwest of Kherson. It is fortified, encloses a large space, and is remarkably well built, with wide streets and a well-planted boulevard. The houses are generally whitewashed or yellow-washed, which gives them a very cheerful aspect, and they are surrounded by large gardens. It has a cathedral, richly decorated internally; town-house, with two fine colonnades ; and the admiralty, a very complete establishment, in the form of a square; extensive dockyards, provided with machinery, which is almost all British ; and a harbor with deep water. In the yards of this town, vessels of the largest size are built, and there is an excellent hydrographical school, in which naval cadets are trained. The barracks for the seamen are extensive, and there is an observatory in the vicinity of the town, the view from which is very fine. The governor's house was built by Prince Potemkin.

Nikolaiev was founded in 1791, and made the seat of an admiralty, and the principal station of the Russian navy in the Black sea. The progress it made at first was very rapid; but it soon became stationary, and, but for the support which it receives from the government, would soon decline. The chief causes of this are, the neighborhood of Kherson, the formidable competition of Odessa, the want of good water, and scarcity of fuel. The population is about thirty thousand.

The government of Taurida is situated between the forty-fourth and forty-eighth degrees of north latitude, and the thirty-second and thirty-seventh degrees of east longitude. It consists partly of the Crimea, or Crim Tartary, as it is sometimes called, and partly of a tract on the mountains lying between the Dnieper, the Black sea, the sea of Azov, and the government of Ekatherinoslav. Its area (including the Crimea) is about thirty thousand square miles.

The mainland part of the government, which, though the least interesting, is the most extensive, consists almost entirely of vast, and in many parts sterile plains, denominated the Steppe of the Nogais, from the Tartar tribes, by which it is principally occupied. "These," says Dr. Clarke, "are a very different people from the Tartars of the Crimea; they are distinguished by a more diminutive form, and by the dark, copper color of their complexions, which is sometimes almost black. They bear a remarkable resemblance to the Laplanders, although their dress and manner have a more savage character." About twenty thousand Germans are colonized to the eastward of the river Molotchna.


Sears, Robert. An Illustrated Description of the Russian Empire. New York: Robert Sears, 1855