Novodevichy Convent

Novodevichy Convent is the most popular and well-known Moscow convent. The name is sometimes translated as New Maidens Monastery, and during any trip to Moscow, it is imperative to see some of the intricate architecture that was built to celebrate religion. One of the best-known attractions is Saint Basil's Cathedral in Red Square, but it is certainly not the only option for those interested in religious history in Russia. Novodevichy has remained unharmed while other examples of sixteenth-century architecture in the city have been destroyed or damaged from years of war or neglect, and in addition, more attention has been brought to this attraction recently, as it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004.

When they tour Novodevichy, visitors learn about the history and people of the convent. Built in 1524 along the Moskva River, it was originally intended to be a fortress, in addition to a monastery. Due to its strategic location for the defense of Moscow, the Novodevichy Convent became a place of protection for many people during various periods of unrest in Russia. Today, one of the most striking features is still the five-domed cathedral called Our Lady of Smolensk. Frescoes inside of the cathedral are a site to see in themselves, and are considered to be among the best in all of Moscow.

The Novodevichy Cemetery is also a popular attraction within the complex. Famous Russian figures including Nikita Khrushchev and Boris Yeltsin are buried there. Originally the Novodevichy Cemetery was intended as a place of burial for Russian nobility, but other figures important to the history and culture of Russia have since been interred there as well. Other historic figures buried there include Anton Chekhov, a significant person for anyone with literary interests. Over time, some notable figures have been re-buried in Novodevichy Cemetery as well, including writer Nikolai Gogol. This Moscow Convent is probably most famous, however, for the recent political figures such as Yeltsin who are laid to rest within its walls.

For travelers interested in architectural history, a visit to the bell tower at this Moscow convent will be of importance. During the eighteenth century, it was one of the highest structures in Moscow, standing at more than 230 feet (70 meters). Octagonal in shape, the bell tower is an architectural delight for visitors who might be expecting more simple structures. Beyond the cathedral and bell tower, there are other churches in the complex to visit as well.

Since the time of the Bolshevik Revolution, the convent has had a varied history. The Bolsheviks closed the convent and turned it into a museum, and in the 1940s Joseph Stalin offered religious courses there. Nuns weren’t returned to the convent until 1994. The fifteen buildings in the complex and golden domes are thought to be an excellent representation of Moscow Baroque architecture. The convent is closed only on Tuesdays and is open from 10 am to 5 pm the rest of the week; visitors should note when seeing the pond upon arrival that it was the inspiration for Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake.

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