Одеські катакомби

Odessa Catacombs


1794 Odessa founded after an order by Catherine the Great.
19th century first underground passages quarried.
1846 first studies paleontologist Oleksandr Nordmann.
1869 explored by the geologist Mykola Barbot-de-Marny.
1875 survey organized by the city government.
1917 rock mining banned within the central part of Odesa.
1941 used by partisans during World War II.
1961 Poisk club (Search club) founded for the exploration of the history of partisan movement among the catacombs.
2005 19 years old girl gets lost after Sylvester party.
2007 dead body of girl finally removed.


Одеські катакомби (Odessa Catacombs) are a labyrinth of passages, between two and four meters wide, which run below a huge portion of the city. They were created some 200 years ago, when the city was actually built, after an order by Catherine the Great to build a new port city by the sea. At first the stone was quarried in normal quarries, but when the demand increased rapidly, they had to follow the layers of suitable rock underground.

The locals call the Odessa underground the Catacombs, and they are really proud to have the biggest catacombs of the world. Unfortunately we must tell them that catacombs are underground cemeteries, especially Christian cemeteries. The passages of Odessa are impressive, but they are simply limestone quarries. However, we will call them catacombs on this page, because it has become a sort of proper name.

The catacombs have a long history and there are numerous stories which actually happened here. But there are also numerous stories about the catacombs which are urban legends. There is a bunch of treasure stories, which drew hundreds of treasure hunters to Odessa, and the secret treasure maps must have sold very well.

There was once a sailor from Odessa, who hid his treasure of gold in the passages. The sailor never returned and the gold is still there, but nobody knows where.

A man who survived the sinking of the Titanic, and was taken to Odessa by the ship which rescued him. He was so grateful, he created a model of the Titanic made of pure gold. For unknown reasons he then brought this treasure to the catacombs.

In the catacomb there lives an underground God who punishes any treasure hunter trying to carry away valuables.

There is a story, that Odessa does not have a subway system or Metro, because of the tunnels. Actually such tunnels are a small difficulty for the engineers, several other cities with similar quarries have a subway system, Paris for example. We guess Odessa lacks a subway, because it is too expensive.

Some stories tell, the passages run 50 m below sea level. Odessa is a harbour city, and the surface to the north is less than 50 m above sea level. There might be passages below sea level, but its unlikely, because water would flow in and fill the passages unless there are pumps installed which remove the water continually. So we doubt it. And there is another problem with number, the given length varies between 2,000, 2,500 or even 3,000 km. Actually surveyed are 1,700 km, all other numbers are guesses or wishful thinking.

That the catacombs were used by criminals now and then is rather likely though. It's easy to store illegal or smuggled goods in a recess and with hundreds of kilometers of passages its unlikely that it could be found in a search. The narrow entrances, the danger to be observed when entering or leaving, and the need to carry all goods, restricts the usefulness massively.

The catacombs were transit points for abducted women, from where they were sent to slave markets in Turkey and the Arab countries. Raids by the police were futile, only scraps of clothing, human remains and inscriptions on the walls were found.

The slave story is most likely a urban legend. In ancient times there was slave trade at the Black Sea since antiquity but on a low level. But the catacombs are only 200 years old, so they did not exist at that time. Another version we read tells about raids by the Cheka, the Soviet secret police, so they refer to the time between 1920 and 1990. Its unclear if there, actually something like that happened, and the Soviet officials kept it secret if it actually happened. The most likely time for such events could be the recent years, sex slaves are a worldwide and growing problem. However, there is actually no use for catacombs in modern slave trade, it works very well without.

The huge labyrinth is extremely dangerous for people who get lost. And if one gets lost he may be found after years. A girl which went to a sylvester party in 2005 was finally discovered by urban explorers after four months.

And then there are recurring stories of people getting lost in the catacombs. But the story of the drunken girl in 2005 seems to be a hoax.