The Novodevichy Convent is situated on the bank of Moscow River and consists both of a monastery and a cemetery.
The convent dates back from the 16th century (1524) when it was founded by Tsar Vasily III as a means to commemorate the Muscovite-Lithuanian War through which the Russians managed to capture the city of Smolensk from Lithuania – which was a major trading center at that time. The construction was meant to serve both as a religious site and as a fortification. This was obvious from the thickness of the walls as well as from the strategic location chosen to erect the edifice.
Due to the fact that it was constructed by the order of the Tsar, the convent occupied a higher position among the religious edifices and was designated mainly for noble women. In fact, it was oftentime used to imprison the women of royalty who would defy the tsar. Just to give an example of how disobedience was punished, it is worth mentioning that both the first wife and the half-sister of Tsar Peter the Great were confined here.
The original structure did not survive the passage of time, so the building that stands before the beholder dates from a later period, more exactly from the 1680s. This marks the year when the monastery was subjected to massive restoration work.
After the Russian Revolution of 1917 the convent was closed and in ’22 it was transformed into a museum. This turn of events was actually beneficial because it ensured the survival of the edifice in a period when Russia was traversed by warfare.
The convent was one again restored in the 1960s and even to this day it has maintained the status of museum which was given at the beginning of the 20th century. However, there are nuns dwelling here, thus maintaining the convent alive.
The monastic complex comprises several churches. The most relevant one is the Cathedral of the Virgin of Smolensk. This follows the architectural style of the Cathedral of Assumption, located in Kremlin, and consists of five colossal domes, an outstanding iconostasis which comprises 84 wooden piers, to which are added 16th and 17th century icons.
There is a legend according to which the cathedral was on the verge of being brought down in 1812, when Napoleon gave order to his soldiers to dynamite the edifice, but a courageous nun had prevented this from happening by extinguishing the fuse.
The Church of Assumption is located to the right of the aforementioned cathedral and the Church of St. Ambrose is located at the back. This later church is all painted in white and contains within its walls icons from the 18th century as well as an exhibition of clergy apparel.
The Gate-Church of Trasfiguration is situated at the entrance of the convent and it is representative for the Moscow Baroque architectural design. The southern gate is ‘guarded’ by the Gate-Church of the Intercession, an edifice consisting of three cupolas and a red and white façade.
As it has been mentioned the complex is officially known as a museum, so exhibitions are bound to be found here. The items on display are paintings dating from Antiquity, ceramic and wooden objects, different types of needlework, as well as an impressive collection of gilded, silver or bejeweled books.
The adjacent cemetery is actually a highly appreciated tourist attraction. Probably this is due to the fact that it resembles a park. There are small chapels every now and then and large sculptures.
In its initial phase, the cemetery was used solely for feudal rulers and for the high figures of the church. As time went by, other important figures started using the cemetery as their burial place, such as intellectuals or traders. Each historical period has its representatives buried Novodevichy Cemetery. Overall, more than 27.000 persons (political leaders, well-renowned artists, actors, authors, etc.) have found their rest here.
The museum is opened Thursday to Tuesday from 10:00 until 17:00, while the Convent is opened each day from 10:00 until 18:00.