Novodevichy Convent and Cemetery (Mikhail Simonov)

Yesterday I tried to visit the Bogoroditse-Smolensky Monastery, also known as the Novodevichy Convent. Apparently it is Moscow's most famous convent, but I knew nothing about it, and frankly didn't even know it was a convent until today. I was tagging along with a couple of French guys I met here in Moscow, but we were unable to enter the monastery because it is closed on Tuesdays (according the police officer smoking a cigarette next to the no-smoking sign).

But we did visit the adjacent cemetery, Moscow's most famous cemetery besides the Kremlin Wall Necropolis, which for many years now has been closed to future burials. It was reserved mostly, or perhaps exclusively, for Russian heads of state, etc.

The Novodevichy Cemetery includes some heads of state (e.g. Boris Yeltsin, first president of Russia; Nikita Khrushchev, First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union) but mostly it is the permanent home to Russia's secular and military, not political, elite: famous astronauts, aviators, dancers, writers, musicians, and also military generals.

The cemetery is both tacky and endearing, but mostly endearing, I think. The monuments and gravestones are all uniquely designed to express individuality, and to call attention to whatever it was that made the person famous. The gravestones of aviators might be in the shape of a fighter jet, whereas the gravestone of a writer might feature him sitting on a bench smoking a cigarette.

I noticed that one of the cemetery's residents died on March 4 of this year, only four days earlier. Later I learned he was buried on March 7, only one day before our visit. His gravestone was covered in fresh flowers, and the framed photograph of him (many if not most of the graves featured framed photographs) had yet to be destroyed by Russia's unforgiving winter. It turns out the man was Mikhail Simonov, a famous aviation engineer who designed fighter jets and developed the Sukhoi Su-27, Russia's military response to America's F-15 Eagle.