If you have an interest in history – or visitors who do – then Novodevichy Cemetery is a must-see place. Little Pickle enjoys it too, she’s had great fun finding leaves, stones, seed pods and bugs while I’ve wandered about taking pictures and showing round various house-guests. Plus there is a park outside the walls at Novodevichy pond where she can play afterwards.
The cemetery is the final resting place for a number of prominent Russians, but finding the relevant graves can be a bit of a challenge, so to save you some time here is a guide to the ones I’ve found so far.
Start by walking up the main avenue until you find the path on your right leading to the archway through into the old part of the cemetery. Section 2 is immediately on your right and you need to start counting the rows carefully. Walking almost to the back wall, keep counting until you reach row 39, which is where you’ll find the grave of the composer Shostakovich. This would be the perfect time to listen to an extract from his Symphony number 7 written during the Second World War in honour of the people of Leningrad. Or if you prefer something a little less intense how about Romance from his score for the film Gadfly.
Retrace your steps to row 21 where you’ll find the grave of Bulgakov, the author of the Moscow-based novel the Master and Margarita. Bizarrely, his rather rough lump of a headstone was originally that of the writer Gogol, but when Gogol’s remains were moved to Novodevichy in the 1930s a new monument was erected. Bulgakov’s widow apparently found the original headstone at a stonemasons and, as her husband had been such an admirer of Gogol’s work, she thought that it would be rather fitting!
Keep heading back towards the main path until you reach row 15 where you’ll find the grave of Russia’s great playwright Anton Chekov. Chekov famously asked for champagne on his death bed and after being given a glass he examined it and said: “It’s a long time since I had champagne.” he then drank it, lay down and died. Buried next to him is his wife, the actress Olga Knipper, whom he met when she took a leading role in his play The Seagull.
In section 3 you’ll need to count rather a lot of rows from the central aisle to row number 47 where you’ll find the grave of Prokofiev (I would have missed him – it’s easy to get distracted with a toddler – but thankfully my mum was with me at the time and she managed to keep count!). Prokofiev died on exactly the same day as Stalin and as a consequence none of his friends were able to find flowers for him (they had all been used for Stalin’s funeral) so a single pine branch was laid on Prokofiev’s coffin instead. If you are coming with older children, they might enjoy listening to Prokofiev’s famous piece for children Peter and the Wolf while they hunt for his gravestone. Adults might prefer to listen to the first or third movements from his First Violin Sonata which was the piece of music played by the violinist David Oistrakh at Prokofiev’s funeral.
Return to the newer part of the cemetery through the arch. The rather charming monument almost immediately on your left of a man and dog is that of the clown and long-time director of the Moscow State Circus, Yuri Nikulin. He was such a great figure, and such a leader in the development of his art, that the circus is now named the Nikulin Circus in his honour. Continue walking straight ahead to find the last resting place of Boris Yeltsin (in section 6 row 23) with it’s stone flag of the Russian Federation covering his grave. Continue along that path and then turn left to find the grave of Raisa Gorbachaev, wife of former president, Mikhail, close to the side wall.
Turn back on yourself and follow all the way along the wall and through the archway to section 11. The second row in front of you (but actually row number 4) is where you’ll find the grave of Gherman Titov, the second person to orbit the earth. He was also the first person to sleep in space, the first to suffer from space sickness, and he still holds the record for being the youngest person in space (he was just short of his 26th birthday).
Back through the arch to section 7 and almost immediately on your left is the black and white monument covering the grave of Khruschev, president of the USSR from 1958-1964. The sculptor of the monument once explained that he used black and white stone because “He began to lead our country out of the darkness…the dawn broke for all of us, heralding the imminent rise of the sun.”
There are a number of other graves of note, some of which I am struggling to find. Isaac Levitan the great landscape painter and close friend of Chekhov is apparently buried somewhere in section 2 and I’m also keen to find the gravestone of Gleb Kotelnikov who invented the knapsack-parachute, if you discover which section he’s buried in, do let me know!
The cemetery is on Luzhnetsky proezd, 2 and is easy to get to from the centre of Moscow by taking Trolleybus number 15 which runs along the western part of the Boulevard ring out towards Luzhniki Stadium.