The expedition of the Institute of Archeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences (IA RAS) established what the Novodevichy Monastery was like in the first two centuries from the moment of its foundation to the reconstruction carried out by Princess Sophia. The opening is reported by the press service of the IA RAS.

The researchers discovered the remains of the foundations of the tower and walls, which were built during the reign of Boris Godunov.

During the rebuilding of the monastery in Peter's times, Princess Sophia erected new, richly decorated walls with "battlements" and towers, on which decorative crowns appeared. So the monastery got its modern look.

“The fabulous architecture that we are used to admiring is the creation of architects and artists of the 1680s and 1690s, when the monastery was rebuilt by the sister of Peter the Great, Princess Sophia. But what was the monastery like for almost two centuries before? We managed to finally solve this riddle, which has long occupied the historians of the monastery life, architecture and planning of Moscow, ”said Leonid Belyaev, head of the Novodevichy Expedition of the IA RAS, Corresponding Member of the RAS.

  • Novodevichy Convent
  • © Institute of Archeology RAS

The monastery was founded in 1524 by the Grand Duke of Moscow Vasily III in memory of the annexation of Smolensk. It was tonsured by royal persons, including Boris Godunov's sister Irina, and Godunov himself was named tsar here.

It is known from written sources that during the reign of Godunov, the murals of the Smolensk Cathedral of the Novodevichy Convent were renewed, and Irina's chambers were built for the dowager princess-nun. According to archaeologists, in the same period, stone walls were built, which, despite the destruction during the Time of Troubles, stood until the end of the 17th century. However, all previous attempts by scientists to find earlier buildings on the territory of the monastery failed.

“Historians have at their disposal a schematic representation of the monastery fence on the Nesvizh plan of Moscow, published in 1611, when the monastery was completely destroyed by the War of the Time of Troubles. Since the 1950s, Soviet-era architects, restorers and archaeologists have been trying to find the early walls of the monastery. Alas, the result was zero, and even doubts arose about their existence, "Belyaev noted.

  • Novodevichy Convent on the "Nesvizhsky" plan of Moscow. Fragment of engraving from 1611
  • © Institute of Archeology RAS

As a result of excavations, it turned out that under Vasily III the monastery occupied a much smaller area, and in the time of Boris Godunov it was surrounded by a small ditch 1.5 m deep and up to 3 m wide, as well as stone walls 3 m wide.They are approximately 15-20 m. Consequently, the monastery was smaller by about two-fifths and occupied an area of ​​about 3 hectares instead of the current 5 hectares.

An excavation in the southeastern corner of the complex near the hospital building of the monastery revealed the base of a faceted white stone tower - a corner fragment of the fence. Sweepings revealed about half of its foundation, under which there were long wooden stakes-piles for compaction of the soil. The diameter of the tower's circumference reached 10-11 m, and its facades had bevels and half-rolls, since during the analysis of the rubble, figured bricks of the corresponding type were found.

  • Excavation site at the Hospital building. Left: top view at the level of the remnants of the brickwork. Right: top view at the level of the foundation ditch with pile holes and the line of the outer ditch
  • © Institute of Archeology RAS

The age of the tower is indirectly confirmed by copper coins found during excavations, minted in the decade of the monetary reform of Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich in 1654-1663.

As noted by Leonid Belyaev, archaeologists have yet to find out the location of the northern and western lines of the walls, as well as the location of the intermediate and passage towers of the early monastery. According to the memoirs of Bishop Arseny Elassonsky, there should be 10 of them in total, while in its current form the monastery has 12 towers.

  • Section through the ditch line and wall. General scheme based on works from 2017-2020
  • © Institute of Archeology RAS

“The expedition made a number of discoveries that in many respects changed the understanding of the culture of royal Moscow in the 16th-17th centuries. They allow us to take a fresh look at the role of the monastery in the events of the Troubles and add one more item to the list of large stone ensembles erected during the reign of Boris Godunov, "Belyaev summed up.

The Novodevichy Archaeological Expedition has been working at the monastery since 2016. Excavations are being carried out as part of a restoration program and preparations for the celebration of the 500th anniversary of the monastery in 2024.