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Duc de Richelieu – the Governor Who Shaped Odessa

21. January 2013 by Lorena 0 Comments

Armand-Emmanuel du Plessis, Duc de Richelieu was born in Paris in 1766. He served the throne under Louis XVI, which were turbulent times. He left the county in 1790 with orders from Marie Antoinette to visit her brother the Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II and talk to him about the brewing unrest in France.


However, Joseph II died before Armand-Emmanuel could arrive. Revolutionary fervor made France a dangerous place for nobility, so, he and Prince Charles de Ligne, the son of an Austrian diplomat decided to go to Russia instead of heading back to Paris. They would join the Imperial Russian Army as volunteers. Armand-Emmanuel was a successful solider, rising, over time, to the rank of Major General.


Armand-Emmanuel, who had become the Duc de Richelieu upon his father’s death, served in the Russian Army until an undue reprimand from Catherine the Great’s successor, Paul I, motivated him to resign his post. He went to Vienna as an ambassador of France. However, at the end of Paul I’s short reign, Catherine’s grandson Emperor Alexander I invited Duc de Richelieu back to Russia with a tempting offer: he wished Richelieu to become the governor of Odessa, a city Catherine the Great founded. 


Although the city was founded during Catherine’s rule, not much progress had been made. According to Richelieu’s journals, when he arrived there in 1803, the town consisted of a handful of stucco huts along a muddy road. Churches and other buildings remained unfinished. The largest business was a powder factory that employed five people.


Richelieu strove to make Odessa Russia’s most modern city. He made the port his first priority and brought in experts from all over the country to work on the project. The improved port made the city more appealing, and helped strengthen trade ties between the east and the west. During his time there, he commissioned the construction of gymnasiums, an Opera House and a number of schools. 


Today, Odessa’s sea ports make it Ukraine’s most important trade city and its second-largest tourist destination.  There is a monument to the man that many consider the true founder of Odessa at the top of the steep steps of the Potemkisaya Ladder. Many locals consider the monument good luck. Those who wish for financial success rub the coins emblazoned on one side of the statue, and students visit it for luck on tests.