Odessa is the third most populous city of Ukraine and a major tourism center, seaport and transportation hub located on the northwestern shore of the Black Sea. Odessa is also an administrative center of the Odessa Oblast and a multiethnic cultural center. Odessa is sometimes called the "pearl of the Black Sea", the "South Capital" (under the Russian Empire and Soviet Union), and "Southern Palmyra".
The predecessor of Odessa, a small Tatar settlement, was founded by Hacı I Giray, the Khan of Crimea, in 1440 and originally named after him as "Hacıbey". After a period of Lithuanian control, it passed into the domain of the Ottoman Sultan in 1529 and remained in Ottoman hands until the Ottoman Empire's defeat in the Russo-Turkish War of 1792.
In 1794, the city of Odessa was founded by a decree of the Empress Catherine the Great. From 1819 to 1858, Odessa was a free port. During the Soviet period it was the most important port of trade in the Soviet Union and a Soviet naval base. On 1 January 2000, the Quarantine Pier at Odessa Commercial Sea Port was declared a free port and free economic zone for a period of 25 years.
During the 19th century, it was the fourth largest city of Imperial Russia, after Moscow, Saint Petersburg and Warsaw. Its historical architecture has a style more Mediterranean than Russian, having been heavily influenced by French and Italian styles. Some buildings are built in a mixture of different styles, including Art Nouveau, Renaissance and Classicist.
Odessa is a warm-water port. The city of Odessa hosts both the Port of Odessa and Port Yuzhne, a significant oil terminal situated in the city's suburbs. Another notable port, Chornomorsk, is located in the same oblast, to the south-west of Odessa. Together they represent a major transport hub integrating with railways. Odessa's oil and chemical processing facilities are connected to Russian and European networks by strategic pipelines.
Odessa has a humid subtropical climate (Cfa, using the original definition of Köppen) or hot-summer humid continental climate (Dfa, using the 0 °C [32 °F] isotherm) that borderlines the semi-arid climate (BSk). This has, over the past few centuries, aided the city greatly in creating conditions necessary for the development of tourism. During the tsarist era, Odessa's climate was considered to be beneficial for the body, and thus many wealthy but sickly persons were sent to the city in order to relax and recuperate. This resulted in the development of a spa culture and the establishment of a number of high-end hotels in the city. The average annual temperature of sea is 13–14 °C (55–57 °F), whilst seasonal temperatures range from an average of 6 °C (43 °F) in the period from January to March, to 23 °C (73 °F) in August. Typically, for a total of 4 months – from June to September – the average sea temperature in the Gulf of Odessa and city's bay area exceeds 20 °C (68 °F).
The city typically experiences dry, relatively mild winters, which are marked by temperatures which rarely fall below −3 °C (27 °F). Summers on the other hand do see an increased level of precipitation, and the city often basks in warm weather with temperatures often reaching into the high 20s and mid-30s. Snow cover is often only light, and municipal services rarely experience the same problems that can often be found in other, more northern, Ukrainian cities. This is largely because the higher winter temperatures and coastal location of Odessa prevent significant snowfall. Additionally the city does not suffer from the phenomenon of river-freezing.
The economy of Odessa largely stems from its traditional role as a port city. The nearly ice-free port lies near the mouths of the Dnieper, the Southern Bug, the Dniester and the Danube rivers, which provide good links to the hinterland. During the Soviet period (until 1991) the city functioned as the USSR's largest trading port; it continues in a similar role as independent Ukraine's busiest international port. The port complex contains an oil and gas transfer and storage facility, a cargo-handling area and a large passenger port. In 2007 the Port of Odessa handled 31,368,000 tonnes of cargo. The port of Odessa is also one of the Ukrainian Navy's most important bases on the Black Sea. Rail transport is another important sector of the economy in Odessa – largely due to the role it plays in delivering goods and imports to and from the city's port.
Industrial enterprises located in and around the city include those dedicated to fuel refinement, machine building, metallurgy, and other types of light industry such as food preparation, timber plants and chemical industry. Agriculture is a relatively important sector in the territories surrounding the city. The Seventh-Kilometer Market is a major commercial complex on the outskirts of the city where private traders now operate one of the largest market complexes in Eastern Europe. The market has roughly 6,000 traders and an estimated 150,000 customers per day. Daily sales, according to the Ukrainian periodical Zerkalo Nedeli, were believed to be as high as USD 20 million in 2004. With a staff of 1,200 (mostly guards and janitors), the market is also the region's largest employer. It is owned by local land and agriculture tycoon Viktor A. Dobriansky and three partners of his. Tavria-V is the most popular retail chain in Odessa. Key areas of business include: retail, wholesale, catering, production, construction and development, private label. Consumer recognition is mainly attributed to the high level of service and the quality of services. Tavria-V is the biggest private company and the biggest tax payer.
Deribasivska Street is one of the city's most important commercial streets, hosting a large number of the city's boutiques and higher-end shops. In addition to this there are a number of large commercial shopping centres in the city. The 19th-century shopping gallery Passage was, for a long time, the city's most upscale shopping district, and remains to this day an important landmark of Odessa.
The tourism sector is of great importance to Odessa, which is currently the second most-visited Ukrainian city. In 2003 this sector recorded a total revenue of 189,2 mln UAH. Other sectors of the city's economy include the banking sector: the city hosts a branch of the National Bank of Ukraine. Imexbank, one of Ukraine's largest commercial banks, is based in the city. Foreign business ventures have thrived in the area, as since 1 January 2000, much of the city and its surrounding area has been declared a free economic zone – this has aided the foundation of foreign companies' and corporations' Ukrainian divisions and allowed them to more easily invest in the Ukrainian manufacturing and service sectors. To date a number of Japanese and Chinese companies, as well as a host of European enterprises, have invested in the development of the free economic zone, to this end private investors in the city have invested a great deal of money into the provision of quality office real estate and modern manufacturing facilities such as warehouses and plant complexes.