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Ensemble of the Novodevichy Convent

Cultural criteria: i, iv, vi
Year of inclusion in the List of World Heritage: 2004

The Novo-Dyevitchi Convent was founded in 1524 by Grand Prince Vasily III in honor of the greatest orthodox object of worship - the Smolensk icon of the Mother of God, and in commemoration of Smolensk liberation from Poles and its reannexation to Russian lands. During several centuries the convent was closely related to the main events and personages of political, religious and cultural life of the Russian state: Ivan the Terrible, Boris Godunov (who in 1598 was called to the tsardom), Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich. At the end of the XVII century the convent was involved in a sharp political struggle for power between Peter the First and his sister Sophia. As a result Sophia was forcibly cloistered and taken the veil in the convent, where she died in 1704. During the Patriotic War of 1812, when the French occupied Moscow, the convent was used for warehouses location, and there even existed a threat of its entire structures explosion.

In the XVI-XVII centuries the convent was one of the most respected in Russia, a place of taking the veil by representatives of tsar's dynasty, as well as the richest boyar families and the nobilities of those times, and women then gained at that the right to be buried on the territory of the convent. The necropolis that emerged here in the XVI century, henceforth considerably widened, and here one began to also bury outstanding statesmen, war heroes, scientists, writers etc. Here are family burial vaults of the Volkonsky and Prokhorov, graves of the historian S.M.Soloviev, the hero of the War of 1812 D.V.Davydov, writer I.I.Lazhechnikov etc. In the early ХХ century behind the south wall of the convent a new cemetery emerged that subsequently became an everlasting rest for many representatives of the most elite part of the Russian society. The Novo-Dyevitchi Convent Necropolis is one of the most ancient and considerable historical necropolises of Russia.

The architectural ensemble of the Novo-Dyevitchi Convent that began to form in the first half of the XVI century was mainly completed by the end of the XVII century. It is in a good state of preservation now. The ensemble is notable for its integrity and authenticity: it was neither reconstructed nor rebuilt, there are no reconstituted objects here, one does only restoration and preservation works here. Furthermore, the ensemble is of exceptional architectural significance: it has been always an important dominating structure of the whole southwest region of Moscow.

The center of the whole composition is the five-domed Smolensk cathedral, the very first stone structure in the convent (1524-1525), built of brick with details of white stone. In the church’s interior a unique wall painting remained made by Moscow masters at the end of the XVI century; frescoes’ motif is the acathistus glorifying the Most Holy Mother of God. The painting’s style mainly relates to the classical Old Russian style – with its strict canonicity of images, figures hierarchy and compositions laconism, alongside with that, this style turned out to be quite decorative. The ancient iconostasis remained completely intact (1683-1686) - five tier, wooden, with gold-filled fretwork, a striking example of this type structures.

Aside from the main cathedral, all basic structures of the convent ensemble are stuck to one style throughout named “Moscow baroque”. This style is distinguished by plenty of decorative details of white stone on facades of brick buildings, as well as by symmetry and gracefulness of structures in whole. It is noteworthy that the Novo-Dyevitchi Convent is the only example of an ensemble realization of this wonderful architectural direction.

The five tier convent belfry raised in 1683-1690 is built of brick, has various white stone details, and is distinguished by very picturesque aspect. Tiers covered by arches, are connected between each other by through-the-wall stairs, and the first tier is divided at that into two floors, and the fifth one – into three floors, connected between each other by wooden stairs. Bells of the XVII century remained intact. Thanks to its considerable height (73 m), exactly defined location, beauty and proportionality, the belfry has always played the role of main high-altitude dominating structure of this region of Moscow.

Other important elements of the single convent historical-architectural ensemble are the Dormitory church with a refectory, the Amvrosievskaya Church, Treasury, Cellar, Singing, Mariinsky, and Lopukhinsky chambers, Irina Godunova’s chambers and those of Yevdokiya Miloslavskaya; these are also a hospital, the Streltsy guardrooms, and a school. In the interior of these convent structures one can see brick stoves, coated by polychromatic Dutchware, vaulted ceilings and columns, ornaments and arched niches, shaped cornices and panelled doors etc.

The situated in the southwest outskirts of Moscow’s historic center, close to a strategic point (fording site of the Moskva River), the Novo-Dyevitchi Convent was a fortress at the same time: it was part of the system of the convent’s defensive “ring”, formed around the city. The fortress walls with 12 towers (of which the four corner ones – St Nicholas, Nadprudnaya, Setunskaya and Chebotarnaya Towers– are round, the others are square) were raised in the 1680s. In plan the convent’s enclosure resembles a rectangle in form (in area of 5.3 ha), of which one of the sides is directed to a pond. Walls and towers are equipped by loopholes and inner galleries, in the center of the south and north sides there is a three-span entrance gate with gateway churches. As the whole convent ensemble, walls and towers are made in “Moscow baroque” and built of brick with a picturesque white stone finishing, and towers are decorated at that by familiar laced “crowns”.

The convent became extinct in 1922, when a museum was created here. In 1934 this museum was transferred under the authority of the State Historical Museum as a separate branch. Now quite a number of expositions are functioning here, thematic excursions are made. Modern guard statuses of the convent ensemble are the following: particularly valuable site of cultural heritage of peoples of the Russian Federation (since 1991) and federal monument of architecture (since 1995). In museums there are valuable collections of Old-Russian painting and icons, books (particularly hand-written ones), tissues, church utensils and other items of applied art.

In August 2004 the 480th anniversary of the convent was celebrated, as well as the 10th anniversary of the monastic life resumption in it.