Located on the Moscow River, Novodevichiy Monastyr (New Maiden's Convent) is a peaceful retreat from the bustling city of Moscow.
The site includes a beautiful 17th-century convent complex that is once again in use and an atmospheric cemetery where many of Russia's most famous writers, poets, politicians and public figures are buried.
History of Novodevichy Convent
The Novodevihcy Convent was founded in 1524 by Tsar Vasily III (1479-1533) to commemoratethe capture of Smolensk from Lithuania. That it was intended to serve not only as a religious institution but also as a fortress is evident from its strategic location and strong wall with 12 battle towers. Until the 20 th century, the convent marked Moscow's southern edge.
Having been founded by the tsar, it enjoyed an elevated position among the many monasteries and convents of Moscow and became a convent primarily for ladies of noble birth. It was also used as a prison for rebellious royals, including Peter the Great's half-sister and his first wife.
Little remains of the original structure. Most of the current building dates from the 1680s, when the convent was significantly rebuilt and enhanced after the Time of Troubles by the Regent Sofia. Sofia was later confined here by Peter the Great along with his unwanted first wife.
After the Revolution, Novodevichy's churches were closed and in 1922 it was turned into a museum. This spared it from a worse fate until the cathedral was return to the Russian Orthodox Church as a reward for backing the war effort in 1945.
Restoration of the convent began in the 1960s and in 1988 an episcopal see was once again established here. It is still officially a museum, but is used as a convent by nuns who keep a low profile.
What to See at Novodevichy Convent
Within the convent complex are several churches. The most important is the huge five-domed Cathedral of the Virgin of Smolensk (sobor Smolenskoy Bogomateri), dedicated in 1525 and built by Alexei Fryazin.
It was closely modeled after the Kremlin's Cathedral of the Assumption and contains a spectacular iconostasiswith 84 wooden columns and icons dating from the 16th and 17th centuries.
According to legend, during the War of 1812 Napoléon had ordered the cathedral dynamited, but a brave nun managed to extinguish the fuse just in time.
To the right of the cathedral is the red-and-white Church of the Assumption (Uspensky tserkov) and an adjacent refectory, constructed at the behest of Sofia in the 1680s. Its interior is almost as impressive as the cathedral, with rows of vaulted windows interspersed with icons and a gilded iconstasis.
Around back is the Church of St. Ambrose, an all-white church that contains an exhibition of cassocks and 18th-century icons.
At the entrance to the convent is the Gate-Church of the Transfiguration (Preobrazhensky tserkov), widely considered one of the best examples of Moscow Baroque architecture.
At the southern gate is the Gate-Church of the Intercession (Pokrovskaya tserkov), with a red-and-white facade and three domes. The church surmounts a gateway wide enough to drive a hearse into the adjacent cemetery.
Exhibitsthroughout the convent display such treasures as: rare and ancient Russian paintings, both ecclesiastical and secular; woodwork and ceramics; fabrics and embroidery; and a large collection of illuminated and illustrated books decorated with gold, silver, and jewels.
The ornate belfrytowering above the convent's eastern wall rises 236 feet and consists of six ornately decorated tiers. The structure is topped by a gilded dome that can be seen from miles away.
Novodevichy Cemetery (Новодевичье кла́дбище) is the Moscow's third most popular tourist site. It has a park-like ambience, dotted with small chapels and large sculpted monuments. The cemetery was built next to the Novodevichy Convent immediately upon the convent's completion.
The cemetery was first used primarily as a burial place for Moscow's feudal rulers and church officials. Later it came to be used for Russia's intellectuals and merchants, while in the 20th century, it was the burial place for many of the Soviet Union's most well-known citizens. Today, the cemetery holds the tombs of Russian authors, playwrights, and poets, as well as famous actors, political leaders, and scientists. More than 27,000 are buried at Novodevichy.
Some of the famous Russians buried there are:
The nearby Novodevichy Pond is also lovely. In the winter this is a favorite place for skating and sledging. Brass ducks by the pond were given by Barbara Bush "to the children of Russia" but later stolen by thieves. They have since been replaced.
Quick Facts on Novodevichy Convent
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|Coordinates:||55.726192° N, 37.555904° E|
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- The Rough Guide to Moscow, 4th ed. (April 2005), 189-94.
- Novodevichy Monastyr - Fodor's Online Travel Guide
- Novodevichy Cemetery and Pond – Economist Cities Guide Moscow
- Novodevichy Convent: Off the Beaten Track - Lonely Planet
- Novodevichy Convent - MoscowCity.com
Map of Novodevichy Convent, Moscow
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