In addition to the spectacular churches within the Kremlin Moscow | Red Square and the Kremlin), there are numerous exquisite examples of Moscow Baroque architecture throughout the city. We spent several hours exploring the Novodevichy Convent and adjacent cemetery and there is a reason they are the third most-visited site in Moscow.
The Novodevichy Convent was founded in the 1530s and has remained intact since the 17th century. The park like grounds along the Moscow River add to its appeal. The convent was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004.
“Get thee to a nunnery” could be interpreted in several ways in 17th century Russia: either announcing that a husband was ready to move on (Eudoxia Lopukhina Peter the Great’s first wife, in residence 1727–1731–divorce was not allowed in the Russian orthodox church but consigning one’s spouse to a convent was), ridding oneself of potential rivals (Sofia Alekseyevna, Peter the Great’s half-sister; in residence 1689–1704)), or time to flee for safety within a convent’s fortress walls. Ironically, during her seven -year reign, Sofia commissioned many of the buildings in what subsequently became her place of exile.
Adjoining the cloisters, the Novodevichy Cemetery is second in importance only to the Kremlin mausoleum. Chekhov, Gogol, Prokofiev are interred there, in addition to Kruschev and Yeltsin.
The tombstones with their lifelike portraits tell quite a story and it is a popular tourist destination.
On a far different scale, the jewel-like Church of Saints Mary and Martha is part of the Marfo-Mariinsky Convent complex.
Grand Duchess Elizabeth (sister of Alexandra, the last Empress of Russia and granddaughter of Queen Victoria) founded the convent in 1908 using the proceeds from selling all her worldly goods after the murder of her husband. She devoted the next decade to building the order and serving the poor of Moscow. However, along with other members of the she was arrested and executed by the Bolsheviks in 1918. The church was closed and the remaining nuns exiled in 1926. However, services resumed in 1992 and the sisterhood was reestablished in 1994.
On the northern banks of the Moscow River, the Cathedral of Christ the Savior rises in its second incarnation. The original cathedral was built over the course of 40 years in the mid-19th century. Stalin ordered it destroyed in 1931 to make way for an enormous Palace of the Soviets. The palace was never finished and in 1995, construction began on the new cathedral.
Just downriver, Peter the Great looms above Moscow on the prow of an enormous sailing ship – in fact a pile of ships – symbolizing the 300th anniversary of the Russian Navy. There is some speculation about the origins of the statue but suffice to say it is not universally admired and over the years there have been concerted attempts to remove or at least move it.
There are many other sights to see in Moscow including some excellent museums and fine examples of 19th and 20th century architecture. Stay tuned!