History of Novodevichy ConventThe Novodevichy Convent enjoys a long, prestigious, and interesting history. It was originally founded in the 1500s (though the structures there date from a century or two later). Built as a fortress by Grand Duke Vasily III, it commemorated Smolensk's return to Russia after having been wrested from the grasp of Lithuania. Situated on the Moskva River, it acted as a part of the city's defense system with its strong towers and walled enclosures. Its position marked the southernmost border of Moscow.
From the start, Novodevichy Convent was a wealthy convent meant for wealthy women. Founded by a tsar, it was designated a favorable location for religiously inclined noble women to take the veil. With these affluent connections, the convent prospered, and it was during the stays of the most influential women that the convent's structures were rebuilt and beautified. Famous women who lived at the Novodevichy Convent include both Peter the Great's sister, Sophia, and his first wife, Eudoxia.
Another famous woman who was assigned to the Novodevichy Convent was the great Boris Gudonov's sister, Irina. Irina was married to the reigning tsar of the time, Feodor I; upon his death, she entered the Novodevichy Convent and her brother was crowned tsar.
Though the convent was strongly fortified, it was targeted by Napoleon during the War of 1812.
After the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, the convent survived as a museum, though its religious function ceased to exist. However, little by little, the convent was slowly returned to the church. First the cathedral was permitted to be used by the Orthodox church, then, much later, nuns began working and living at the convent once again. The Novodevichy Convent is now both a working convent and a museum that travelers to Moscow can visit.
Cemeteries at the Novodevichy ConventTwo important cemeteries are a part of the Novodevichy Convent grounds. The first cemetery is located with the walls of the complex and was used for royal women. The second cemetery is located outside the convent walls and contains the remains of many remarkable individuals, including Chekhov, Gogol, Shostakovitch, Bulgakov, Boris Yeltsin, and others.
The tombstones and memorials at the cemetery are unique; skilled artists have carved out sculptures to represent the lives of those interred here.
What to See at the Novodevichy ConventMost of the buildings at the Novodevichy Convent are in the Moscow Baroque style. Even structures that probably date originally to the establishment of the convent in the early 16th century show evidence of reconstruction in the later style.
Not surprisingly, some of the convent's churches are beautiful to behold. The Cathedral of Our Lady of Smolensk, also known as the Cathedral of the Virgin of Smolensk, is the oldest structure and carries the name of the city whose return to Russia the convent's establishment commemorated. Its interior decorations, including an iconostasis and frescoes are highly prized. The Church of the Assumption should also not be missed by visitors; its interior glows with natural light reflecting off decorative gilding.
Museum exhibits preserve religious items, artwork, and jewel-encrusted books. The items on display reflect the richness of the convent's history and its importance to Moscow. Visitors can even view the chambers Irina Gudonova occupied during her stay here.
The grounds around the convent are also worth viewing. Gardens, a pond, and a view of the opposite bank of the Moscow River can be enjoyed, especially on a summer's day when the weather is nice.
Visiting Information for the Novodevichy ConventPlan to spend two or three hours to tour the convent, its grounds, and cemetery. It's possible to view the cemetery only (it requires a separate entrance fee), but visiting the convent grounds is recommended. Note that the Cathedral of Our Lady of Smolensk is only open during the summer season and closes for winter. On religious holidays, the convent may be closed to visitors.
The Moscow Metro's red line (Sportivnaya Station) will take you to the Novodevichy Convent. The convent is located a couple of blocks away from the station, so be sure to take a map with you that has the convent clearly marked so you don't get turned around.. Keep a look out for the towers and sparkling domes, which will help guide you.
The convent does require a small entry fee. If you want to take photographs, you'll have to buy a license for another small fee.
Hours of Operation: 10:00 am to 5:00 pm (convent). The grounds and the cemetery have extended hours of operation. The museum is closed the last Monday of each month.