Based on the mutiny of the battleship Potemkin of 1905, the Soviet silent film Battleship Potemkin was directed by Sergei Eisenstein and released in 1925. It stands as a milestone in the history of cinema, its montage editing techniques ahead of its time. In 2012, the British Film Institute named it the 11th greatest film of all time, and it has been named as the favorite of Charlie Chaplin, Orson Welles, Billy Wilder, and Michael Mann, to name a few.
One of the most famous scenes from Battleship Potemkin happens near the climax, which depicts the imperial soldiers massacring the civilians of Odessa. The sequence was famously paid homage to in Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables, also inspiring such films as Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather, and even Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith.
Despite its symbolic status, this massacre is thought to have never happened in real life, the film essentially being a dramatized propaganda. Nevertheless, it made the stairway famous enough to rename it the “Potemkin Stairs.”
Constructed between 1837 and 1841, the steps were designed by Italian architect Francisco Boffo and Russian architects Avraam Melnikov and Pot’e. They serve as a formal entrance to the city from the harbor side, and originally had 200 steps. A renovation in 1933 reduced the number to 192, with 10 landings. The stairway is also a carefully constructed optical illusion. It is designed so that a person looking down the stairs see only the landings, while a person looking up sees only the steps.
During the Soviet era, the steps were renamed the Potemkin Stairs in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the famous mutiny. Following the independence of Ukraine, its original name “Primorsky Stairs” became official again, but the locals as well as tourists still refer to it as the Potemkin Stairs (or Odessa Steps) in honor of its significance in cinema history.