The coast, beach and port
The Russian Imperial government began to plan a sea port on the Northern Azov in 1824 when the Governor General of the Caucasus Viceroyalty sent an expedition to the Azov Sea. Its task was to find a place to build a new seaport to assist in the defence of Russia's southern borders. Soon merchants moved in and built private wooden quays. In 1836 the first foreign ships entered the port of Berdyansk so a modern stone lighthouse was soon built by Italian merchants. By 1883, the oil lamps were replaced by electric lights.
In 1841 the settlement at Berdyansk Bay received the city status and under the first mayor, the small township turned into a growing city with many foreign companies' offices and active international trade. He had built the first stone houses in the town and the famous Winter Theatre, which was destroyed in WW2. Some foreign grain purchasing representatives moved their offices to Berdyansk, from Mariupol and Odessa.
Map of Ukraine, 1991
Note Odessa, Berdyansk, Mariupol
In Berdyansk the main employer was still the seaport, and in 1869 the breakwater was ordered. This stone building is 640 metres long with two port lights on the ends – pointers to the harbour, located 859 metres from the shore. The increasing importance of the port was becoming clear.
In 1876 the Town Governor and Port Chief did much to promote the development of both port and city. Soon there were small industrial enterprises and banks opening in the city. Italians constructed the city power station, and 2 daily newspapers, 3 libraries and 4 bookshops were established. Electric lighting covered the city.
Central city housing, fountains, gardens and seating
Russian Orthodox Church
In 1899 Berdyansk was linked to the railway and new residents flooded in. There were 10 churches, 3 Jewish synagogues, boys & girls' high schools, nautical classes and a college. In addition to an extensive export trade in mainly grain & flour, Berdyansk became a substantial distributive market for goods received over a wide area.
In the new century, the sea port had clients from across the world - metal processing, scrap metal, grain, coal, ore, clay, sunflower-seed oil, industrial oils, iron, fertilisers and mineral oil. The container terminal was quickly linked to the railway depot.
Berdyansk was also an important fisheries centre which was an integral part of the city's food industry. There is also a scientific organisation which does fish research in reservoirs of the Azov basin. The city is located on the smoothly rising coast, so there are many of interesting places to visit eg the Berdyansk spit, which cuts into the Azov Sea for 20 km. In many sanatoriums, recreation centres and spa salons in the city, there are mud bath treatments from the lakes and estuaries. It makes sense that the sights of Berdyansk are mostly connected with the sea eg boat trips to the islands, visits to the light houses, the zoo and dolphinarium, fine sandy beaches and a fresh, very warm sea.
My grandfather and his brothers knew Berdyansk’s two most famous citizens. Isaac Brodsky (1883-1939) was born in a village near Berdyansk. He studied at Odessa Art Academy and the Imperial Academy of Arts in St Petersburg. In 1916, he joined the Jewish Society for the Encouragement of the Arts. Brodsky was on good terms with many leading Russian painters, including his mentor, Ilya Repin. He was an avid art collector who donated numerous first-class paintings to museums in Russia and elsewhere.
In 1934 Brodsky became Director of the All-Russian Academy of Arts. After his death, his Arts Square flat in St Petersburg was declared a national museum. And the Brodsky Museum in Berdyansk has 4,500 works of painting, sculpture, graphics and applied art.
Joel Engel (1868—1927) was also born in Berdyansk. He studied law at the Kharkov National University, and later, with Tchaikovsky’s encouragement, he entered Moscow Conservatory to pursue his passion for composing. After graduation, Engel worked as the music critic of an influential Russian newspaper and supported composers who wrote in the increasingly popular Russian nationalist style.
Engel had no interest in Jewish music until an eventful meeting in 1899 with Vladimir Stasov, art critic and leading proponent of Russian nationalism in art and music. When asked about his pride in his own people, Engel apparently experienced an revelation, and took a deep interest in his Jewish musical roots. In 1900, Engel returned home to Berdyansk, and collected Yiddish folk melodies. Then he organised lecture-concerts which included performances of the songs he had recorded and arranged.
Brodsky Art Museum, Berdyansk
In 1922, the Society sent Engel on a mission to Germany, to promote the new Jewish music movement. Engel organised concerts in Berlin and Leipzig, performing songs and instrumental works by himself and by other Russians. Engel opened Yuval Publishing House in Berlin in 1923, becoming the main publisher for the Society’s composers.
Ukraine officially declared itself an independent country in 1991, including Berdyansk (pop 120,000).