Old Moscow  

Original Official Site of the Russian National Tourist Office

For centuries the palaces and churches of the Kremlin were the only buildings made of stone. The rest of the city was constructed of wood and was destroyed with each great fire (of which ancient Moscow had plenty). As a result, surviving artifacts of old Moscow are rare. They consist of major structures around the city and just a few wooden buildings hearty enough to survive the conflagrations.

Novodevichiy Convent & Cemetery

At the same time that Moscow's Kremlin was reinforced as a protective citadel for the city center, a series of fortified monasteries were constructed as an outlying defensive chain to the south. The most famous of these is the beautiful Novodevichy Convent, founded in 1524 and situated along a prominent bend in the Moskva River. The convent's fame, however, has less to do with its role as a protective fortress than with its aristocratic and political history, for Novodevichy was the favored destination for high-ranking women banished from court. The most famous such inmate was Peter the Great's elder sister Sofia, who had ruled as Regent during his minority. After Peter came of age and--with some difficulty--claimed his throne, it was to Novodevichy that he banished his Machiavellian sibling in 1689. Nine years later, as Peter was returning to Russia after his travels in Europe, Sofia engineered an attempted coup from the convent. The coup failed, and Peter reached home in time to participate in the mass execution of the rebels. Although Sofia was not to be harmed, she was apparently driven mad when the bodies of her supporters were strung up outside her window.

Novodevichy is also famous for the cemetery that lies beyond its south wall. Here lie many famous writers, artists, and politicians including Gogol, Checkov, Bulgakov, Mayakovsky, Stanislavsky, Shostokovich, Eisenstein, and Nikita Khrushchev, the only Soviet leader not buried behind Lenin's Mausoleum.

English House

The English House provides an interesting little glimpse of the life of an imprisoned Brit in Ivan the Terrible's court. In the middle of the sixteenth century, Ivan gave the house to English representatives of the Muscovy Company, a private trading consotium similar to the East India Company. The envoys hoped to win for England a share in the increasingly lucrative fur trade. Ivan's diplomatic interests, however, centered on the possibility of marrying Elizabeth I, the "Virgin Queen." When the Tsar learned that Elizabeth wasn't exactly jumping at this idea, he became (surprise) rather upset. In order to express his frustrations, Ivan confined the queen's ambassador to English House for four months. Although the house is currently undergoing restoration, even those sections that are still open give visitors a sense of the life of a foreigner in Moscow four hundred years ago.

Palace of the Romanov Boyars

This reconstructed palace was the home of the Romanovs before they became Russia's ruling family. The palace was built in the sixteenth century by Nikita Romanov, Ivan's brother in law and Michael Romanov's grandfather. When Michael was named as Tsar in 1613, at the end of the Time of Troubles, the entire family moved into the Kremlin. The Romanov palace was restored in the nineteenth century, from which time it has served as a public museum. The rewards of a visit today go beyond a glimpse at the ancestral home of the last Tsars--the palace is also a lovely and intriguing example of early aristocratic life in Moscow.



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