At the beginning of the XIX century, many circus booths worked in Odessa. From the first years of the city’s establishment, different comedians, magicians, and guides of bears performed in parks and fairs. On New Year’s Eve and Christmas holidays, carnivals were held. On the Theater Square near the City Theater, an “entertainment town” was placed with tents, roller coasters, carousels, amphitheaters, and booths. Amphitheaters hosted popular wrestling and fistfights, and booths hosted theater and circus performances.
Booths are easy temporary structures. Usually, they were built of planks, and a curtain was put before the stage. The auditorium hall was divided into two zones. The first zone was with benches, the second zone was called “paddock” where the audience was standing. In front of the booths a special balcony was built, here before the start of the performance, the whole troupe showed the best parts of their acts to attract the audience.
The history of circus constructions in Odessa began in 1857 when the J. Godfroix founded the first circus, that was primitive in its equipment. Soon a wooden circus has appeared under sailcloth covering, which had the sonorous name of Hippodrome. In the 1860s, a large stone building was constructed in Theater Lane for the circus troupe of Gutemann from France. At the end of their tour, it was rebuilt into the Mariinsky Theater, in which opera and drama performances, as well as circus performances, were staged. Then in the summer garden “Hermitage”, across the Stroganov bridge, a huge round wooden building was constructed for touring circus troupes.
Albert Salamonsky, during a tour in Odesa with his troupe, fell in love with the Black Sea city. As a result, he decided to build a stationary circus in Odesa. In 1879, on the street Koblevskaya, 37, the first circus was opened in Odesa. The stone building of the circus was made following all of the rules of architectural art: with a capacity of 4 thousand spectators, it was well-equipped and had central heating. The 25-year history of the State Odessa Circus begins with that building, that has existed here for 10 years.
After the circus was destroyed in 1889, a noble Odessa businessman, the owner of the brewery (the “beer king”) Wilhelm Santsenbacher decided to build a new circus building. In 1894, the circus of Santsenbacher was opened on the Koblevskaya street, 25. The 12-sides and 20 meters high building with a dome with double metal cladding for better isolation in case of hot or cold weather were erected here by the project of engineer A.D. Geldfand. It was called the “Iron Circus of Santsenbacher ” because of its numerous metal fragments.
And inside, where 2300 spectators were seated, there was “a plush paradise … of marble, steps, gold, old lamps, arches, corridors, echoes, laughter, sparkling eyes, the smell of perfumes, the sound of heels, you never know,” as Yury Olesha enthusiastically described it in his book “No days without a line”.
After the death of V. Santsenbacher, in 1894 – the year of the circus opening – the Sansenbacher family remained the owners of the circus. However, his brothers didn’t pay a lot of attention to the circus because of their work and the circus slowly faded away. Owners began to change one after another. Then the circus administrator Moritz decided to take charge of the circus. Since 1908, the gendarme colonel Malevich, headed the Odessa Circus and invited here the best circus troupes.
In the summer, the circus building was used as the cinema “Palace Theater”. In the circus, wrestling championships were held with the participation of the best wrestlers of Russia and foreign countries. In 1912, the Odessa Wrestling Championship was held here with the participation of the strongest wrestlers around the world. The famous wrestlers Ivan Poddubny and Ivan Zaikin, who was also the first balloonist in Russia, successfully performed and won in the circus. The first flights on airplanes were held at the hippodrome and performances of Ivan Zaikin were also shown there. After the events of 1917, the building of the Odessa Circus became the property of the city council. In 1925, the Odessa Circus received the status of a state circus.
Valentin Kataev remembered Odessa circus in his book “Broken Life, or the Magic Horn of Oberon”, Lev Slavin wrote about it in the novel “The Foretold of Truth”, Yuri Smolich in the novel “Sunrise above the Sea”…
Here A. Chekhov and V. Durova first met. As a result – the birth of “Kashtanka” by A. Chekhov. Works of A.Kuprin were filled with the topics of circus life after he discovered the life of the Odesa circus (the story “In the Circus”)…
By that time, when Odesa had gained the fame of a large market center on the Black Sea, famous troupes and outstanding artists of that time began to regularly come to the city from all around the world. Among them were the brothers Ferroni, D. Babushkin, Burkati, Benedetto, the horse trainer V. Trutstsi, the outstanding fighters I. Poddubny, I. Zaikin, the clown Zhakomino, the Durovs family, the Nikitin brothers…
During the entire period of the circus’s existence, here repeatedly performed famous circus artists- V. Eder, Y. and V. Durov, Teresa Durova, M. Rumyantsev, creators of the attraction “Lions and Tigers” I. Bugrimova, M. and V. Zapashny, representatives of the Odesa circus dynasty, famous equilibrists, sisters Koch, the first Soviet weightlifting world champion who has increased more than 100 world records, G. Novak, the founder of “the Bear Circus” V. Filatov, A. Volzhansky, the Shirman brothers, A. Kornilov, Y. Kuklachev, V. Dikul, the outstanding illusionist E. Kio and then his sons I.E. and E.E. Kio.
…The old Odesa circus. Artists love him. Here, a special inexpressible aura. In contrast to the huge modern circus buildings, here the first rows are close to the arena and it creates direct contact with the audience.