A stroll inside the heavy stone fortifications of this monastery, founded in 1360 by Metropolitan Alexei and named in honor of its first abbot, St. Andronik, is an excursion into Moscow's past. The loud crowing of birds overhead drowns out the rumble of the city. Even the air seems purer here, perhaps because of the old birch trees growing on the monastery grounds and just outside its walls. The site was chosen not only for its strategic importance—on the steep banks of the Moskva River—but also because, according to legend, it was from this hill that Metropolitan Alexei got his first glimpse of the Kremlin.
The dominating structure on the monastery grounds is the Spassky Sobor (Cathedral of the Savior), Moscow's oldest stone structure. Erected in 1420–27 on the site of an earlier, wooden church, it rests on the mass grave of Russian soldiers who fought in the Battle of Kulikovo (1380), the decisive Russian victory that eventually led to the end of Mongol rule in Russia.
Unfortunately, the original interiors, which were painted by Andrei Rublyov and another famous icon painter, Danil Chorny, were lost in a fire in 1812. Fragments of some frescoes have been restored, however.
The building to your immediate left as you enter the monastery is the former abbot's residence. It now houses a permanent exhibit titled "Masterpieces of Ancient Russian Art," with works from the 13th through 16th centuries. The next building, to the left and across the pathway from the Cathedral of the Savior, is the Refectory, built during the reign of Ivan the Great, between 1504 and 1506 and housing icons from the 19th and 20th centuries. Attached to the Refectory is the Tserkov Archangela Mikhaila (Church of St. Michael the Archangel), another example of the style known as Moscow baroque. It was commissioned by the Lopukhin family—relatives of Yevdokiya Lopukhina, the first, unloved wife of Peter the Great—as the family crypt in 1694. But there are no Lopukhins buried here, as Peter had Yevdokiya banished to a monastery in faraway Suzdal and her family was exiled to Siberia.
The last exhibit is in the former monks' residence and is devoted to 3rd-century saint Nikolai the Miracle Worker (270–343), better known in the West as St. Nicholas, the inspiration for Santa Claus. Icons here depict his life and work.