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Odessa is said to occupy the site of an ancient Miletian Greek colony that disappeared between the 3rd and the 4th centuries AD. Built at the behest of Catherine the Great in 1794, Odessa became the 3rd leading city in old Russia, after Moscow and St. Petersburg and has had its heydays as a brilliant cultural center. The crucial event in the trade policy was the declaration of a free port (porto franco) regime in Odessa in August 1819. Today Odessa is the country’s largest commercial seaport and a busy industrial city. It remains one of Ukraine’s most important cultural and resort areas, drawing visitors to its attractive centre and sandy beaches. With a population of 1.1 million it is the Black Sea’s «Gateway to the Ukraine» and the Ukraine’s «Southern Window to Europe». The city, proudly known as the «Pearl of the Black Sea», still retains its old-fashioned charm. Opera lovers will make straight for the glittering Opera House, and none will want to miss the famous 193 Potemkin Steps, immortalized by Eisenstein’s film «The Battleship Potemkin».