UNESCO Heritage Site #139: The convent-prison of the Russian princesses


UNique – 4/10

Located in the south-west region of Moscow, not too far from the banks of the Moskva river, Novodevichy convent does not give an impression of a religious complex at first glance. Tall, thick convent walls, crowned with twelve towers appear impenetrable and would not be out of place in a fortress protecting the approaches to the capital. The walls encase several monumental structures: the Smolensky Cathedral, several churches and the six-tiered belltower, once the tallest building outside of Kremlin.

ESsential – 4/10

It is perhaps not a coincidence that the construction of the convent commenced in 1524, around the time that the Great Prince Vasili III was doing his best impression of King Henry VIII by trying to end his marriage with the childless wife of 20 years. It was suspected that the newly-built convent was going to become the new home of the Great Princess. While she had never made it to the convent, it did become the designated place for the confinement of the female members of the royal family. Famously, Novodechy Convent was the place where Peter the Great incarcerated his older sister Sophia during the struggle for the throne.

COst-effective – 6/10

Before my visit, I had not realized that the main attractions of the convent – the cathedral and belltower – were covered in scaffolding. They have been undergoing restoration until a fire accident in 2015. This has set the progress further back, and the date for the completion is unknown. Still, the view of the convent from the lake and the rococo architecture inside are worth the free entry. Although beware, the free entry is only mentioned in Russian, where is in English it mentions a fee.


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