Graveyards are a dark and mesmerising cultural spots that can tell many legends about the city and the ones who lived there. Here is a guide to Moscow’s oldest and cemeteries with most fascinating stories.
The cemetery is located on the territory of Novodevichy Convent that was built in the times of the tzar Vasiliy III. It is the place of burial of many nobleman and elite. Since being laid to rest in this convent’s walls was very prestigious, by the 20th century the monastery almost ran out of space for the dead. A new cemetery was established just outside Novodevichy Convent’s walls. After the soviet government undertook a liquidation of the graveyards, the remains of many famous writers, composers, politicians and aristocrats were moved here. During the soviet times it was even prohibited to enter this territory unless you were a relative of someone buried here and had a special pass.
There are many fascinating facts about the tombs that you can come across in the convent. For example one can see a famous “Golgotha” stone, that once stood on Nikolai Gogol’s grave on Danilov Monastery’s cemetery and now rests on top of Mikhail Bulgakov’s grave. Gogol himself is rumoured to rest here in his coffin without a skull.
Established in the end of 16th century, Donskoy cemetery has a story similar to one of Novodevichy. It was originally intended to become the final resting place of elite and nobility.
After the events of revolution, soviet government was responsible for the destruction of many historical burial sites but Donskoy, fortunately, was saved from such devastating fate. What is more, in 1930’s it became some sort of a warehouse for pieces that were left form demolished architectural sites. Nowadays people can come and observe the sculptures of cathedrals and the decor of aristocratic homes near the walls of Donskoy Monastery, where they are currently displayed.
Famous people such as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Anton Denikin, Vsevolod Meyerhold were buried near the monastery walls. The cemetery also has a mass grave of soldiers, who died in the events of WW2.
Another interesting thing that you may notice here are the odd headstones in the shape of the tree trunks with short snags instead of branches. They were usually placed on the grave of the last member of a family and symbolised the end of the dynasty.
Several centuries ago, in 18th century, Russia had to face the outbreak of plague. Hence, the empress Katherine II ordered to bury the contaminated dead outside of cities, so the deadly virus doesn’t spread too fast on the living people. This is how the story of this cemetery began.
At first Vagankovo Cemetery wasn’t a prestigious place to be laid to rest, not as the two previous cemeteries. But that has changed in 20th century and now one will find here a plethora of names that shaped Russian history and culture.
Here rests Zinaida Reich, wife of Vsevlod Meyerhold who was killed by the soviet government. Zinaida herself was murdered by unidentified strange men soon after her husband died. Another important grave would be one of Sergei Yesenin, an accomplished Russian poet, a symbol of his own epoch. A year after his death, his friend and secretary Galina Benislavskaya shot herself in the head on his grave.
Initially Vvedenskoye Cemetery was a place for the deceased catholics and protestants, in other words, it was a cemetery for foreigners who lived in Moscow. Since it was located in the German Quarter, it was often referred or as the “German Cemetery”.
The highlight of the cemetery is a mosaic replica of the painting “Isle of The Dead” by a famous symbolist Arnold Bocklin on a vault of G. Lion. The macabre beauty of the graveyards is supported by it’s architecture: beautiful gate in gothic style and family vault of Erlangers, that was build by the most prominent Art Nouveau architect in Russia – F. Schechtel. Inside the vault there is a fresco by Petrov-Vodkin. It’s walls are littered in scribbles, locals that come here leave their messages to God in hopes that they will come true. According to legends, there is even a passage to the underworld that is disguised as a tombstone of the vigneron Camille Philippe Deprez. The marble portal on his grave has two ferns – a symbol of eternity, and hexagrams that reference the 6 days of creations. Some say, that on the full moon, the light forms a cross on the stone’s surface.