The Alexander II Column, also known as Alexander’s column or Monument to Alexander II of Russia, is a triumphal column located in Shevchenko Park, Odessa and is commemorated to the visit of Russian Emperor Alexander II to the city in 1875.
The monument was built on remnants of the Saint Andrew bastion (fortification motte) of Odessa Fortress that was built in 1793-1794 for border control and was declared inefficient for defence in 1811 as the borders of Russia moved further southwest.
The monument was built in May 1891, by the Russian architect Alexander Alexandrovich Bernardazzi (1871-1931). It consists of a 13 ton column made of Labradorite on a high red granite pedestal. On the red sandstone plaque was inscribed: “Alexander II grateful to Odessa.” Above this was a medallion of white marble with a portrait of Alexander II. Above it – a bronze crown, a scepter, a sword and a staff, and below the inscription was the emblem of the city made of dark bronze in a wreath of oak and laurel leaves; on the other side of the commemorative plaque (on the eastern side) was engraved: “In this place, the Tsar Liberator granted the park in His Name on 7 September 1875, and planted the first tree.”
The column was crowned with a bronze “Cap of Monomakh”, which lay on a bronze pillow with hanging tassels. The bronze decorations were made at the Parfel Factory in St. Petersburg by the sculptor-ornamentalist Lapin, based on the drawings of the academician V. Tokarev. The decoration of the stone elements were made by the Labradorite factory in Gorodische. The granite steps at the base of the monument was decorated with four bronze eagles.
During Alexander II’s visit to Odessa, a Tsar’s pavilion was constructed. It was here that the monarch gave permission on establishing here a park named after him. The park was officially opened on 7 September 1875 and on 10 September was named the “Alexander Park” after the emperor, who planted an oak tree during the park’s opening ceremony. The tree was fenced with a patterned cast-iron lattice. The park was renamed in honour of the famous Ukrainian writer Taras Shevchenko in 1954.
After the Bolsheviks came to power, the monument was repeatedly altered. The Cap of Monomakh was removed along with the symbols of the monarchy and tsarist Russia – including a double-headed eagle, crown, sword, scepter, and the dedicatory inscriptions, including the name of the sculptor. The column was draped with a red cloth, and a red flag was raised on a flagpole next to it. The monument was dedicated to the Third International (Communist International or Comintern), in which a bas-relief of Karl Marx was established on the monument. The grand opening and dedication were held on 18 June 1920.
In 1954, the oak tree planted by Alexander II and the patterned cast-iron lattice fence were demolished and replaced with a concrete monument to Bohdan Khmelnytsky (1595-1697). The column itself was not subjected to any alterations at that time. After some time, the concrete hetman disappeared.
In the 1970s there were talks about the dismantling of the monument, but nothing came of that. In the 1990s, all the bronze elements of the monument were stolen.
In the summer of 2011, Odessa and the regional authorities declared that the monument, which was considered a part of the city’s cultural and historical heritage, “must be saved from destruction.” At the initiative of the city authorities, a special charitable foundation “Alexandrovskaya Column” was created to oversee the project. The column was restored to its historic original. Thanks to the efforts of city residents and patrons of art, the reconstruction of the monument was completed and timed to coincide with City Day, celebrated in Odessa on 2 September 2012.
An 1892 visitor guide to Odessa noted:
The beauty of its monument to the Tsar Liberator in Odessa can be regarded as one of the most elegant monuments in Russia. Due to its elevated location, one can view both the city and the sea perfectly for several miles.
© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 4 May 2018