St. Sophia Cathedral on an early August morning, Vologda, Russia.

© Karasev Viktor/Shutterstock

St Sofia’s Cathedral

Top choice in Northern European Russia

Powerful five-domed St Sofia’s Cathedral has a soaring interior smothered with beautiful 1680s frescoes. The astonishingly tall iconostasis is filled with darkly brooding saintly portraiture.

The massive stone cathedral was erected in just two years (1568–70) on the direct orders of Ivan the Terrible.

Ivan’s ruthlessness at Novgorod (where he sacked his own city and fried citizens alive in large pans made especially for the occasion) was known and feared throughout Russia. So the Vologda workers jumped to it. But haste, of course, makes waste. Local legend has it that Ivan, upon walking into St Sofia’s for the first time, was struck on the head by a tile that had been grouted to the ceiling without due care. Ivan stormed out, never to return, and the cathedral was consecrated only after the Terrible One’s death.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Northern European Russia attractions

1. Bell Tower

0.02 MILES

Climbing the 288 steps of St Sofia’s Cathedral's separate 78.5m-high, gold-topped bell tower offers breathtaking views down upon the cathedral’s grand…

2. Resurrection Cathedral

0.04 MILES

Just outside the kremlin enclosure, the amply domed 1776 Resurrection Cathedral adds photogenic foreground to kremlin views. It also houses an art gallery…

3. Kremlin

0.05 MILES

Vologda’s multidomed, attractive kremlin is the city’s historical centrepiece, a 17th-century fortified enclosure built as a church administrative centre…

4. Art Department

0.06 MILES

On the eastern side of the main kremlin courtyard, Muppet-style wooden dolls, lacquered wood items and embroidery briefly grab your attention before the…

5. Regional Studies Museum

0.07 MILES

The natural history section has clearly benefited from the untimely demise of numerous regional species of wildlife, such as the dramatically posed…

6. Lace Museum

0.09 MILES

The sparklingly modern Lace Museum, across the square from the kremlin, patches together some great examples of this archetypal Vologda craft, with…

7. World of Forgotten Things

0.18 MILES

One of several enchanting old wooden buildings at the eastern end of ul Leningradskaya, this little museum evokes the life of a 19th-century, 17-child…

8. St John Chrysostom Church

0.21 MILES

This attractive 17th-century church is one of Vologda's oldest constructions and contains some 200-year-old frescoes. Located on the river bank opposite…