Located near the Moscow River, Novodevichy Monastery (New Maiden’s Convent) is a peaceful retreat from the bustling city of Moscow. The sights include a beautiful 17th-century convent complex and a cemetery where many of the country’s most famous public figures are buried.
The Novodevichy Convent was founded in 1524 by Tsar Vasiliy III to commemorate Moscow’s capture of Smolensk from Lithuania. It was intended to serve not only as a religious institution but also as a fortress. Having been founded by the tsar, it enjoyed an elevated position among the many monasteries and convents of Moscow 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.
Within the convent complex there are several churches. The most important is the huge five-domed Cathedral of the Virgin of Smolensk of 1525. According to legend, during the War of 1812 Napoleon 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 Church of the Assumption. At the entrance to the convent is the Gate Church of the Transfiguration, widely considered one of the best examples of Moscow Baroque architecture.
Exhibits throughout 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.
Novodevichy Cemetery 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. Some of the famous Russians buried there are: Nadezhda Alliluyeva and Raisa Gorbacheva, «First Ladies» of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Bulgakov, playwright and author, Nikita Khrushchev, statesman, Alexander Lebed, soldier and politician, Dmitri Shostakovich, composer, Boris Yeltsin, first President of Russia, Mstislav Rostropovich, great musician and many others.
The nearby Novodevichy Pond is also lovely. In 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.