Dead and buried: Five famous Russian necropolises

This is my first post on this blog for some while, since I have been pre-occupied with other duties for much of the past month. Today is also April Fool’s Day and Easter Sunday. What better way of celebrating these holidays than a post about where the historically minded tourist might be able to find all these dead Russians whom we read about in the history books.

Lenin’s Mausoleum and the Kremlin Wall Necropolis, Moscow

Lenin's Mausoleum
Lenin’s Mausoleum and Kremlin Wall, Red Square, Moscow, Russia.

During the Soviet era, the Kremlin Wall Necropolis was the most prestigious burial site in the country, reserved for state leaders and distinguished individuals. The first burials on the site took place in 1917 when a group of 240 Bolshevik revolutionaries were buried in a mass grave by the Kremlin Wall. Mass burials continued throughout the Civil War, though preference was later given for cremated remains to be placed in the Kremlin Wall itself. The location was made more prestigious after the decision to build Lenin’s Mausoleum on Red Square following his death in January 1924. Twelve individual tombs, including those of Josef Stalin, Leonid Brezhnev, Yuri Andropov, Konstantin Chernenko, Felix Dzerzhinsky, are located in a row behind the mausoleum. Other notable burials in the necropolis include cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, Marshal Georgy Zhukov, and John Reed, the American journalist and author of one of the most popular accounts of the October Revolution, Ten Days That Shook the World.

How to visit:
Entry to the Kremlin Wall Necropolis and Lenin’s Mausoleum is free on Tuesday-Thursday and Saturday from 10am to 1pm. Bags are not allowed and should be stored in a cloakroom either at the State Historical Museum, or at the Kremlin (underneath the Kutafya Tower entrance).

Novodevichy Cemetery, Moscow

Grave of Nikita Khrushchev
Grave of Nikita Khrushchev, Novodevichy Cemetery, Moscow, Russia.

The Novodevichy Cemetery is adjacent to the Novodevichy Convent, a 16th century monastic complex to the southwest of Moscow. Like several other religious institutions in Moscow, the convent was a prestigious place of burial for Moscow nobles. Notable burials inside the monastery walls include Napoleonic era partisan commander Denis Davydov, and WWI General Alexei Brusilov. The cemetery outside the monastic walls was established at the end of the 19th century. One of the earliest burials on the site was the writer Anton Chekhov, who died in 1904. The remains of mid-19th century writer Nikolai Gogol were also transferred to the site. Throughout the Soviet era, the cemetery was a prestigious burial ground of Soviet luminaries, second only to the Kremlin Wall. Other notable burials in the Novodevichy Cemetery include composers Sergei Prokofiev and Dmitri Shostakovich, Boris Yeltsin, and Nikita Khrushchev, to date the only Soviet leader not to be buried by the Kremlin Wall.

How to visit:
The cemetery is open daily from 9am to 5pm. Entry to the cemetery is free. A map of the most notable burials may be acquired at the entrance for 100 roubles. Entry to the convent grounds is also free, though tickets are required to visit the buildings.

Archangel Cathedral

Archangel Cathedral
Archangel Cathedral, Moscow Kremlin, Moscow, Russia.

The 16th century Archangel Cathedral in the Moscow Kremlin was the royal necropolis of the Rurikid princes of Moscow. The cathedral contains the tombs of almost fifty individuals, sixteen of whom ruled Russia either as Tsar or Grand Prince of Moscow. These include the warrior prince Dmitry Donskoy, who led a Muscovite army to victory over the Tatars at the Battle of Kulikovo in 1380. The graves of Tsar Ivan the Terrible and his immediate family are located in a separate chamber adjacent to the main congregation space. The shrine of Dmitry of Uglich in the centre of the cathedral deserves particular attention.  The earliest tsars of the Romanov dynasty are also buried here. Following the foundation of St Petersburg by Peter the Great, the imperial mausoleum was established in the Peter and Paul Cathedral. The only post-Petrine tsar to be buried in the Archangel Cathedral is Peter II, who died in Moscow in 1730 on the eve of his coronation.

How to visit:
The Archangel Cathedral can be visited with the Kremlin Cathedrals ticket, which costs 500 roubles from the Kremlin Museums ticket office in Alexander Gardens. The Kremlin grounds are open from 10am to 5pm daily except Thursdays.

Peter and Paul Cathedral

Peter and Paul Cathedral
Interior of Ss Peter and Paul Cathedral, St Petersburg, Russia.

The Peter and Paul Cathedral is one of the most famous landmarks of the city of St Petersburg, founded in 1703 by Peter the Great. The cathedral forms part of the Peter and Paul Fortress, situated on Hare Island on the Neva River. The Swiss-Italian architect Domenico Trezzini was responsible for the design of this Baroque masterpiece, built between 1712 and 1733. The cathedral contains the marble sarcophagi of Russia’s tsars and their spouses from Peter the Great onwards. The remains of Nicholas II and his family were placed in a chapel in 1998 following their discovery and identification, although the remains have subsequently been taken for retesting.

The Mausoleum of the Grand Dukes behind the cathedral was built at the beginning of the 20th century for burials of junior members of the imperial family since the cathedral itself was running out of space, but the Russian Empire collapsed soon after.

How to visit:
The Peter and Paul Cathedral is open from 10am to 6pm daily except Wednesdays. A ticket for entry to the Peter and Paul Cathedral and the Grand Ducal Mausoleum can be bought for 450 roubles.

Alexander Nevsky Monastery

Grave of Alexander Suvorov
Grave of Alexander Suvorov with the laconic epitaph ‘Here lies Suvorov’, Alexander Nevsky Lavra, St Petersburg, Russia.

The Alexander Nevsky Monastery or Lavra is one of the most significant religious sites in Russian Orthodoxy. It was founded by Peter the Great in 1710 soon after his victory against the Swedish army led by King Charles II at the Battle of Poltava in 1709. Peter the Great decided on this location believing it was the site of Battle of the Neva in 1240, in which the Russian prince Alexander Nevsky won a famous battle over a Swedish army. In fact the site of the battle is several miles upstream to the east. The monastery is located at the end of Nevsky Prospekt, St Petersburg’s main thoroughfare which originates at the Admiralty in the city centre. Following the foundation of the monastery, Peter the Great ordered the transfer of Alexander Nevsky’s remains from the city of Vladimir to the monastery. These remains were reinterred in a magnificent silver sarcophagus, which is now on display in the Hermitage.

The monastery became the most prestigious burial ground in Russia over the course of the entire imperial era. Famous burials include mathematician Leonhard Euler, Field Marshal Alexander Suvorov, the polymath Mikhail Lomonosov, composers Pyotr Tchaikovsky and Modest Mussorgsky, and the novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky. More recent burials include Anatoly Sobchak, the liberal mayor of St Petersburg and patron of Vladimir Putin.

How to visit:
The cemeteries are open in the summer from 9:30am to 6pm (11am to 4pm in winter) Entry to the monastery grounds is free, but entry to the most Tikhvin and Lazarev cemeteries, where most of the notable tombs are located, is priced at 100 roubles.  A further 100 roubles is required to visit the museum, where a replica of Alexander Nevsky’s tomb may be seen.


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