Sightseeing in Odessa: Lion Sculptures on Odessa’s Buildings

Lion sculptures at the entrances to the historic mansions, lion heads decorating grandeur facades and beautiful gates of the houses in the historic quarter and along French boulevard, images of lions in the family symbols. After a brief walk along Odessa’s city center, it becomes obvious that lions were a highly popular ornament in the XlX century. What’s the reason to this?

Vorontsov palace lions

Experienced travelers have certainly seen lion sculptures decorating buildings in Western European countries, in Saint Petersburg, the northern capital of former Russian Empire and … in China.

Indeed, a couple of stone or bronze lions decorating the entrance of both old and new buildings is an extremely popular and old attribute in China, meaning power and might. He-lion with his right foot over the globe should stand to the left, meaning the unity of the Empire; she-lion with her left foot supporting the baby lion should be to the right, meaning continuity and welfare.

Lions were a very popular décor element of mansions and parks in ancient Rome.

How did lion sculptures appear in the architecture in Russian Empire?
The Russian Tsar, Peter l (aka Peter the Great), who set his footprint into the country’s history by turning it to the Western culture, in the early XVlll cent envisioned a new European looking capital for the Russian Kingdom – Saint Petersburg. Saint Petersburg in his mind had to be as grand as the capital of Roman Empire. Hence, the lion sculptures appeared on many of the squares and streets of the newly built city. Paired sculptures of lions decorating main entrance or the grand staircase of the palaces, city mansions and country residences became highly fashionable among aristocrats and rich merchants, who wanted to emphasize their personal power and solemnity of the mansions.

A young and booming city and Black Sea port of Odessa did not like to be behind either the Russian capitals (Moscow and St Petersburg) or the major European towns in the XlX century. The mansions had to be grand, the streets – broad, the summer residences along the shoreline – sumptuous. Aristocrats brought in their favorite décor element- lions, merchants followed their example and those who made quick money and “moved from Greenwich to Brooklyn in one generation” were putting lions all over the place making their newly reached status clear to all☺.

Tolstoy palace

As a result, one can now see lions with a ring in their mouth (the symbol of eternity) at the front entrance of the Medical University, above the entrance to the Bristol hotel and on the whole bunch of houses along the main streets of the historic quarter; a pair of lions crowning the steps (originally the gates) of the Vorontsov palace, a granite lion head beautifully fit in to the façade of the Tolstoy palace; as well as plenty of lion heads on the gates and original wells around the historic quarter and in French boulevard.
Those who really like this element of décor can even put a photo gallery of Odessa’s lions ☺.

Lions on buildings

Safe Travels and enjoy Odessa!


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