Although the site of present Odessa (sometimes with a single "s") was once occupied by an ancient Greek colony, the modern city was founded by José de Ribas, an important Russian admiral of Spanish heritage (and a favorite of Catherine the Great), in 1794. Odessa is often called the Pearl of the Black Sea, with as many as 240 sunny days a year. As one of the sea's largest port cities, Odessa has always harbored a mix of cultures. Named a free port in 1819, Odessa became much more of a melting pot than any other Ukrainian city. When it was part of Russia, it was the fourth most important city in the kingdom (after Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Warsaw). Architecturally, its influences are much less Russian or Ukrainian than Mediterranean (particularly French and Italian). Several important historical and literary figures have lived in Odessa over the years, including Aleksandr Pushkin, Armand-Emmanuel du Plessis duc de Richelieu, Prince Mikhail Semyonovich Vorontsov, and many others. And more than most of the cities of the former USSR, Odessa has managed to salvage both its freedom and its good humor.
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