The Novodevichy Convent is one of the most appreciated historical sites by Muscovites and a must-see if you travel to Moscow. Next to the convent is the Novodevichy Cemetery, the most famous of Moscow and in which famous celebrities of Russian history are buried, such as former Russian President Boris Yeltsin, film director Sergei Eisenstein, or composer Dmitri Shostakovich, among others.
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The Novodevichy Convent (or Monastery), or Novodevichy Convent Complex, is a complex of walled religious buildings that dates back to the early 16th century, and that you can’t miss in your visit to Moscow. It is located in the southwest of the capital, next to the Moskva River. It is one of my favorite places in Moscow, for its tranquility and its history.
Next to it is the Novodevichy Cemetery, the most famous in Moscow, whose visit is even more interesting than that of the convent, since famous figures of Russian history are buried there, and tombs and mausoleums are authentic works of art.
The entire complex, of Russian Baroque style, has undergone important changes since its inception and has been a direct testimony of the history of Russia, the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union, reaching our modern days with the declaration of the Novodevichy Convent as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2014.
In addition, outside the high masonry walls, there is a park, the Moskva River and a small lake, which was immortalized by Tchaikovsky in The Swan Lake, from which we see the financial district of Moscow City in the distance, with its modern skyscrapers.
The visit to the convent, including the cemetery, may take you one morning. Near Novodevichy there is the modern and refurbished Great Sports Stadium of the Luzhniki Olympic Complex, which was the main venue for the 1980 Moscow Olympics and the 2018 World Football Championship, in case you want to complete your morning or day visit schedule.
2. Basic Information: hours, prices, visits, restaurants and how to get there
The visit to the Novodevichy convent complex and the cemetery, as I said, can take you the whole morning, though everything depends on the rhythm of each one and the exhibitions that are visited. Keep in mind that the complex is in continuous remodeling and it is easy to find some churches or exhibitions of the complex closed or under construction.
- Hours: the convent museums open every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
- The schedules can be consulted on the official website: https://ndm-museum.ru/museum/services.html
- The worship schedule, in case you want to attend some liturgical service, can be consulted through the link: https://ndm-museum.ru/ndm/schedule-of-services.html
- Price: 300 rubles. For school children, students and retirees: 100 rubles. A supplement of 100 rubles is paid to be able to take photos inside.
- Keep in mind: women are advised to cover their heads and shoulders when entering churches, while men should wear long pants.
- Official websites: http://novodev.msk.ru/ and https://ndm-museum.ru/ (both in Russian).
- Nearest metro station: Sportivnaya. After, five minutes walking. Address: Novodevichy Avenue, 1.
- The visit to the Cemetery is free.
- Guided visits. Guided tours are organized from the Convent itself, though they are in Russian. For guided tours in other languages you have the ones organized by private agencies like GetYourGuide.
In the vicinity of the monastery (or convent) there are several restaurants of elaborate cuisine: Givisatsivi, Khinkalnaya (Georgian food) and Golubka (Italian and Russian cuisine). If you prefer, there’s also a Russian fast food place from the restaurant chain Kroshka Kartoshka.
3. The Novodevichy Convent, living history of Russia
Apart from being one of the most beautiful religious complexes in Russia, the Novodevichy Convent has its own history, linked to the royal dynasties, which goes back to the Tsars, until its current management by the Russian Orthodox Church in 2010. I will try to make a small summary. If you want more information, there is an official guide (though it is in Russian) about the history of the convent until today. You can download it in this link.
3.1. The origins of the Convent (1524)
The origins of the Novodevichy Convent are located in 1524, at the time of the Great Prince Basil III, then called the Monastery of the New Maidens and after 1514, after the two Russian-Lithuanian wars, Smolensk was annexed to Russia. The new monastery served as a historic tribute to this event. However, during the siege of Moscow (1610-1612) it was devastated. Subsequently, the first Romanov czars restored it completely.
3.2. The Princess Sophia Alekseyevna (1682-1689)
But undoubtedly one of its historical figures was the princess and regent of Russia (from 1682 to 1689) Sofia Alekseyevna, who died in Novodevichy in 1704, where she was forced to retire after strong disputes in court. She became a nun and is buried in the same Smolensk Cathedral.
During her regency the architectural group of the Convent was improved with the construction of three important churches, the bell tower, a refectory and several chambers. It was one of the times of flourishing of the complex.
3.3. The Napoleonic invasion (1812)
Another notable episode occurred in 1812, when the French Napoleonic troops occupied the convent and wanted to destroy with gunpowder the Cathedral of Smolensk and the Church of the Assumption. It seems that the explosion was avoided by the nuns.
3.4. The Russian Revolution (1917)
In the 18th century, Novodevichy was a monastery that dedicated great efforts to charitable activity for orphaned girls, there was even a hospital and two asylums for old nuns. In addition, there were significant restoration works. Later the new cemetery was planned, outside the walls and the foundations of the current one.
After the October Revolution of 1917, ecclesiastical property was confiscated and in 1922, the Bolsheviks abolished the monastery and later the Church of the Assumption was closed in 1929, where there were still sisters living there. Later, towards the middle of the 20th century, the Convent and its churches were recovered for courses, services and religious uses.
3.5. The Convent today and its 500th anniversary in 2024
In 1994, the monastic life resumed and the nuns returned. In 2004, the architectural ensemble was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. In addition, in 2010, the Russian Government transferred the use of the complex indefinitely to the Diocese of Moscow of the Russian Orthodox Church.
In 2016, the Bank of Russia issued coins of 50 rubles (made of silver and gold) dedicated to the monastery. The Novodevichy Convent will celebrate its 500th anniversary in 2024, for which there will be institutional aids, works and improvements in the complex.
4. What to see in the Novodevichy Convent
Within the walls of this magnificent artistic complex, it is very worth seeing or visiting the following religious buildings, with the caveat that some may be open only in summer and also that some of them may be undergoing restoration work.
Here you have a panoramic view of the entrance to the Novodevichy Convent, with the Church of the Transfiguration:
Therefore, in the enclosure you can see:
- The Cathedral of Smolensk, whose original church dates back to the beginning in 1524 and which was later enlarged. It has icons or unique religious paintings, the best of Moscow, and a beautiful iconostasis, really spectacular, from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, with wooden frames and gold coatings. Probably one of the best ornate religious displays in the city. The temple is dedicated to Our Lady of Odighitria, with samples of Byzantine art and Russian sovereigns.
- The Church of the Assumption (1685-1687), where its refectory is the highlight. A rich decorative design of the Muscovite Baroque.
- The Church of the Intercession (1685-1687), of a blood red color, with cameras and annexed rooms.
- The Church of the Transfiguration (1687-1688), which also has adjacent chambers.
- The Church of St. Ambrose of Milan (Amvrosievskaya Church). 16th and 17th centuries. Rebuilt after a fire in 1796.
- The Bell Tower (1689-1690), the highest point of all, which has a height of 72 meters, has six levels and is octagonal.
- The towers and walls that surround the complex, forming an irregular pentagon.
Within the complex you can also visit different museums and exhibitions, which are dedicated to historical figures of the monastery, such as a famous abbess or historical events and religious life, with objects and artistic portraits. These exhibitions of the convent can change places and its contents.
But, above all, it is worthwhile to rejoice in the complex itself for its good state of preservation.
5. The Novodevichy Cemetery, where famous celebrities from Russia rest
It is a sacred space, in which entrance is free (not to be confused with cemetery of the same name in St. Petersburg) where famous celebrities of Russian history are buried from the end of the 19th century to early 20th century, such as musicians, artists, military officer, politicians, historians, scientists or writers, all a pride of the country. Probably the most illustrious cemetery in Moscow.
5.1. The origins of the cemetery and the first funeral
Its inauguration took place in 1898, though it has been a cemetery since 1904. Previously, the burials were made inside the walls of the convent from the 16th century, in the old historical necropolis, usually reserved for royal families, nobles and wealthy people, but initially for nuns and novices.
In 1904, Anton Chekhov was buried, perhaps the first funeral or one of the first celebrities to be buried in the new cemetery. This writer and playwright was one of the greatest exponents of Russian nineteenth-century realism.
At the time of the Soviet Union, the burials were in general of people with a high social status, while in the decade of the fifties of the last century it was surrounded by walls.
Currently it has around 27,000 tombs on 7.5 hectares of very busy land. At the entrance to the enclosure there is a map in Russian in which the most famous tombs can be located.
Despite its funerary content, it is a green area with tombs and mausoleums that are authentic works of art and very important sculptural creations, which are always related to the lives of the deceased, such as busts, reliefs, animals, airplanes, and the list goes on, with some notable figures.
5.2. Russian personalities who rest in Novodevichy
Some personalities that rest in this fascinating cemetery are:
- Konstantin Stanislavski (1863-1938), director and theatre actor, with his own method.
- Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953), composer, conductor and pianist with an extensive work.
- Nikita Khrushchev (1894-1971), president of the Council of Ministers of the USSR. He succeeded Stalin between 1958 and 1964.
- Sergei Eisenstein (1898-1948), film director, author of the masterpieces, among others, Battleship Potemkin (1925) and October (1928).
- Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975), a prolific composer and pianist, who also wrote operas and music for films. He’s one of my favorite composers and I have a picture on his grave:
- Mstislav Rostropovich (1927-2007), the best cellist of his generation and conductor.
- Boris Yeltsin (1931-2007), former president of Russia, covered with a flag of the country, made of marble in relief and which serves as a symbolic tombstone.
In short, it is a beautiful and melancholy place at the same time, a true open-air museum, peaceful and quiet.
I recommend you visit the website: http://novodevichye.com/ (in Russian), where you can find a complete database with alphabetical indexes and by professions or thematic areas of buried personalities, including photos and small biographies.
Here are the photos of other well-known tombs of the Novodevichy Cemetery, among which you can see other Russian celebrities, such as the World War II pilot, Vitaly Ivanovich Popkov, the poet Vladimir Mayakovski, the wife of Gobarchev (Raisa Gorbacheva), the Russian comedian Yuri Nikulin, the singer Lyudmila Zykina or the Soviet actor Vyacheslav Tikhonov, known for the character of the Soviet spy Stierlitz
I hope this article has helped you organize your visit to the Novodevichy Convent and Cemetery. Below you can leave your comments or questions.