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Population: 309,000

Main industries: machine building, food, textiles, lumber

Founded: 1147

Interesting fact: The city is sometimes called the “holy land” because more than 100 Vologda residents have been canonized as saints

Helpful contacts: Vologda City Hall spokeswoman Svetlana Zolotilova (+7 8172-72-23-48; ssolot@mail.ru)

Sister cities: Kouvola, Finland; Miskolc, Hungary; Zwolle, Netherlands; Londonderry, Vermont, U.S.

VOLOGDA — Last weekend’s posh celebrations to mark Moscow’s 864th birthday left no doubt where Russia’s capital is located. But 460 kilometers away, another city also recently celebrated 864 years — and its residents remembered that instead of St. Basil’s Cathedral and Red Square, the trademarks of Russia’s capital could have been a tub of butter and a wooden house with a carved fence.

A favorite of Ivan the Terrible, Vologda had all the makings to become the Russian capital. The tsar lived in the northern city for almost four years and proposed moving the capital there because it was on a key trade route and closer to the West than Moscow.

But in the end, Moscow cinched its place in history thanks to an ordinary brick. Legend has it that a brick fell on Ivan the Terrible while he was visiting the construction site of St. Sophia Cathedral. The tsar got mad and was never seen in Vologda again.

Although its hopes of becoming the capital were in ruins, Vologda continued to develop as a cultural and manufacturing gateway to the Russian north.

Major companies

Nestle (4a Ulitsa Mikhaila Popovicha; +7 8172-25-78-20; nestle.ru) purchased a children’s food factory in Vologda in 2003 and has been producing children’s cereals there since 2005. Production lines for instant cereals were added to the factory in 2010. The factory now produces 18 brands of children’s cereals under the Nestle tag and 18 instant cereals under the Bystrov tag.

The 70-year-old Vologda Machine-Tool Plant (22 Zalineinaya Ulitsa; +7 8172-21-83-59; vsz.ru) initially specialized in making wood-processing equipment, but now also produces equipment for the metallurgy, transportation and agriculture industries. The plant works with many enterprises in the Vologda region and has also started to develop stronger relations with its Western partners.

The Vologda Ball-Bearing Factory (13 Okruzhnoe Shosse; +7 8172-53-66-09; vbf.ru) is one of the largest of its kind in Russia. It produces more than 1,700 standard types of ball and roller bearings as well as other products, including those made to custom design.

The city is instantly recognizable for its facade of wooden houses with a “reznoi palisad” (carved fence), which was sung about across the country in a popular 1970s song. About 80 of the houses, built for merchants in the 19th century, are preserved to this day, and city authorities are trying to build even more carved fences to keep Vologda’s old feel.

Vologda’s wooden houses and numerous churches give its visitors a chance to immerse themselves in quiet provincial life, but the city is also a growing economic center. It hosts major lumber, automobile, food and textile companies.

The food companies account for a third of the production in the city. Vologda Governor Vyacheslav Pozgalev said the city is now working on strengthening its branding, one of the key components of which is the nationally famous Vologda butter.

Tourists can be seen plowing through Vologda’s train station with souvenir wooden barrels and ceramic jugs of butter that they then have to dangle out of train windows to make sure that the delicacy doesn’t melt. The governor insists that there is nothing better.

“If you ever taste Vologda butter, you will always be able to tell the difference between this butter and any other — even with your eyes closed,” he said.

Besides butter, visitors hunt the city for linen and lace. Vologda officials expect to see continued growth in linen production as prices and demand continue to rise. Already Vologda’s linen has attracted the interest of Russian designers Valentin Yudashkin and Slava Zaitsev, who have designed entire collections from the fabric.

For MT

Philippe Fehrenbach,
Director of Nestle Russia’s branch in Vologda

Q: Why did Nestle choose to build its factory in Vologda?
A: Vologda city was chosen due to its convenient geographical location and cooperative local people.

Q: What are the benefits and difficulties of working in Vologda?
A: The benefits of working in Vologda are good cooperation and support from the local authorities.

Q: What opportunities for growth does Vologda offer?
A: Vologda is considered a promising region for development. In 2010, Bistroff cereals production was transferred to Vologda. More than 200 million rubles was invested into expanding production at the Vologda factory. Nestle constantly invests in developing the Vologda factory in order to offer consumers new tastes and new products. In 2011 and 2012, we plan to invest in further development of the factory and upgrade our product lineup.

— Lena Smirnova

The enthusiasm of Vologda residents for lacemaking knows no bounds. The city set a Russian record for simultaneous lacemaking in June when 570 lacemakers converged on the central Kremlin Square as part of the International Linen Festival. Participants ranged from 3-year-old Lyuba Tikhomirova to 74-year-old Galina Suslova, who has more than 60 years of experience in the craft.

Kapitalina Lobacheva, a retired music teacher who helped Vologda set the record, said she has tried sewing and knitting but found them less enjoyable than lacemaking.

“Lacemaking is my life,” Lobacheva said. “I’d like to do nothing but make lace.

“It’s just like a fairy tale,” she added, looking down at a masquerade mask she was working on.

Vologda has sent a number of its talented residents to Moscow — and beyond — over the years. Vologda-born writer Vladimir Gilyarovsky became an iconic figure in Moscow, while Pavel Belyaev was the 10th man in space and directed the first spacewalk.

But even when the opportunity to live elsewhere is tempting, many Vologda natives who leave choose to return. Retired seamstress Valentina Shukina said she had an offer to move to the Caucusus when she was young but quickly found out that she couldn’t live anywhere except Vologda.

“I am proud of everything here. Everything,” Shukina said. “I like it here. I don’t want live in any other place.”

Lilia Lobintseva left the city when she got married about 10 years ago, but the Belgorod region where she settled with her husband disappointed her for its lack of rivers and more mundane life, she said. After 10 years, Lobintseva could no longer stand to be apart from her hometown.

“It is as if I felt something was wrong. Something called me back,” she said. “I wanted to go back so badly that I couldn’t bear it.”

The city had changed a lot in the decade that Lobintseva was away. Many wooden houses have been dismantled or burned, she said. The landscape has also become less wild as city officials put in neat flower beds and redesign parks.

For MT

Vladimir Korbakov,
Painter and member of the Russian Academy of Arts. He is 89.

Q: Why do you choose Vologda and its people as the main subjects for your paintings?
A: I often paint Vologda themes because I was born in Vologda and I have lived here all my life, except for the two times when I left for the front and studied at an arts school in Moscow. I love my city very much. It’s an old and beautiful city. The people are very kind.

Q: What are the qualities of Vologda residents?
A: The qualities of Vologda residents are first and foremost kindness, openness, patience and endurance. They have will power and character. But the most important quality is that they have managed to preserve old traditions, which are essential for the Russian soul. Very good and kind people live in Vologda.

Q: What are your favorite places in Vologda?
A: I like the old Vologda — the churches and the houses with balconies that are unique to this city.

Q: As Vologda has grown more modern, the wooden houses and nature have started to disappear. Does the city still inspire you?
A: It is not as spoiled as the other regional cities. Volodga has preserved its naturalness. Even the new houses that are being built follow old designs. There is a cultural program in place to keep Vologda’s old image. So yes, it still inspires me. It’s a beautiful city.

— Lena Smirnova

“Roads are getting asphalted, the flowers in the courtyards are blooming, and new houses are getting built,” Governor Pozgalev said in his address to the city residents during Vologda’s 864-year birthday celebrations in June. “There is no shortage of good things being done in Vologda.”

Pozgalev also said residents’ opinion about Vologda is changing for the better.

Indeed, it is rare to hear them say anything bad about their city. Shukina said it is the “good and responsive” people who make Vologda a fine place to live and visit.

“We always live with goodness in our hearts,” she said. “It is the best traveling companion in life.”

What to see if you have two hours

First lady Svetlana Medvedeva told Vologda’s governor during her June trip that she did not manage to see even a tenth of what was on show in the city’s Kremlin Square. To do better than Medvedeva, start by climbing the spiraling wooden stairs to the top of St. Sophia Cathedral. The balcony offers a great panoramic view of the square and the city.

Opposite the cathedral is the newly opened Museum of Lace, which showcases intricate works by artists from Vologda and Europe. The two floors in the museum are a fairly quick visit, which will leave you time to walk along the embankment near the kremlin walls.

For those with a keen interest in politics, a visit to the Vologda Exile Museum is a must. The museum is located in the wooden house where Josef Stalin lived in 1911 and 1912. Vologda was a popular exile destination in pre-revolutionary times, with prominent Soviet leaders, including Lenin’s sister and a future Soviet foreign minister, serving out their sentences in the provincial town.

What to do if you have two days

An extra day in Vologda warrants a trip to the old monasteries around the city. The Ferapontov Monastery houses frescoes that Moscow artist Dionisy painted in 1502 in an area that poet Nikolai Rubtsov called “the most holy place on Earth.”

The Kirillovo-Belozersky Male Monastery, which is located 129 kilometers from Vologda, is home to six monks as well as the local cat Tsilya. The monastery has a large collection of icons, some of which are on now display at the Tretyakov Gallery as part of its “Holy Russia” exhibition. Tour guide Marina Travnikova said a visiting Muscovite was so impressed with the icons that he told her, “‘You have a provincial town, but the museum is not provincial.”

For MT

Yevgeny Shulepov,
Vologda city manager

Q: What makes Vologda attractive to investors?
A: First of all, Vologda is attractive to investors because of its good geographical location. Our city is even called “The Gateway to the North.”
We are now looking at the possibility of building a large logistical center that would be a big plus from investors’ point of view. The administration also is working on solving so-called administrative barriers to attract large companies and investors to the city. The administration always welcomes new enterprises and helps to speed up the process of registering and licensing them.

Q: What is Vologda doing to attract investors?
A: An important step was the drafting of the 2020 strategy “Vologda: A Comfortable City,” which was approved by a public council and the deputies of the Vologda city legislature recently. The strategy outlines major steps and projects that will help form a good investment climate. Although the strategy was adopted recently, concrete work to fulfill its goals is already being carried out. For example, the city has formed the Council on Science, Innovation and Investment that includes representatives from the education, science, business and political sectors. We also are working on establishing an online investment portal that will open soon. This Internet resource will contain useful and complete information for investors, including details about potential investment projects, open spaces, incomplete projects, land units that are not in use, and the equipment used by Vologda’s big enterprises.

Q: What positive changes have taken place in the city in recent years?
A: Vologda has been actively reaffirming its status as the cultural capital of the Russian north over the past few years. Vologda has become the site of international events such as a competition of young European filmmakers called “Voices” and an international festival of lace, “Vita Lace.”
Vologda has been rated a comfortable city for residents as well as for business several times. According to Forbes magazine, Vologda is among Russia’s 30 most attractive cities in terms of business climate and contributions from foreign investors.

Q: What still needs to be worked on?
We need to adopt legislation that determines the legal, economic and social conditions for investment in the city and ensures the equal protection of investors’ rights, interests and property regardless of the kind of property that they invest in. We also need to provide tax preferences to organizations that invest in Vologda’s economy.

— Lena Smirnova

The lake beside the monastery is said to be holy and to have the power to make people younger, which could explain why the site has been a popular destination for Russian leaders from Mikhail Romanov to Vladimir Putin.

If you choose to stay in the city, take time to explore some of the places where the locals like to go. The monument to the 800th anniversary of Vologda is a popular meeting place for young and older residents alike. A stroll across the bridge and through Zarechye, the territory on the left side of Vologda River, gives a taste of the most historic part of the city.

What to do with the kids

Children will enjoy coming to Vologda in the winter. Sleds start rolling down the embankments near Kremlin Square as soon as the first snow falls. When the winter sets in, kids don’t even bother to run home to get good sleds and will just use anything that rolls down the hill, Lobintseva said.


Vologda is considered to be a cultural center of northern Russia, and there is no shortage of activities to do there even when night falls. The city has several theaters, of which the Vologda Drama Theater is the oldest (1/23 Sovietsky Prospekt; +7 8172-72-61-66; dramtheater.ru). Established in 1849, the theater continues to treat Vologda residents and visitors with productions of Russian and foreign classics.

The Vologda Teremok Theater of Dolls (21 Ulitsa Lenina; +7 8172-72-45-40; teremok.vologda.ru) is also worth a visit. The theater troupe has gone on tours to the United States, Bulgaria, Hungary and Finland, but if you cannot get to watch a show, at least walk by the theater’s building to admire its bright-red castle-like structure.

For those wishing to explore Vologda’s clubs, head to X.O. Partyclub (107 Zosimovskaya Ulitsa; +7 8172-75-06-75), which boasts the city’s best dance floor and has even drawn the likes of Grammy-winning artist David Guetta.

Where to eat

While Vologda shops are a good place to stock up on souvenir buckets of butter, city restauranteurs are ready to offer a wider assortment of food to visitors. The Italian food and posh interiors of Bellagio (4a Ulitsa Sergeya Orlova; +7 8172-26-55-91) drew in French director Pierre Richard when he was filming a documentary about the region last winter.

For those wishing to sample Russian cuisine, a stop at the Nikolaevskiy (14 Ulitsa Kostromskaya; +7 8172-53-22-99; nikolaevskiy.ru/foodandbeverage) is in order. The restaurant is line with classic Russian tastes and specializes in salmon, pork and other meat dish grilled over an open fire. A meal for one without alcohol costs about 1,000 rubles.

Restaurant Atrium (27 Ulitsa Gertsena; +7 8172-78-78-33; atrium-vologda.ru/res) is a good place for a business lunch. It is conveniently located in the Atrium Hotel in the city center and has an easy atmosphere. A lunch of caviar on ice, salmon salad with avocado and fresh vegetables, perch fried in bacon with peanut sauce and ice cream covered in balsamic sauce costs 780 rubles.

Where to stay

Vologda’s governor remembers with pride how far the local hotel business has come in recent years. Until recently, Vologda visitors had a choice of just one hotel, but can now choose among 29.

To save the trouble of choosing the best one, celebrities have already tested the options. Hotel Atrium (27 Ulitsa Gertzena; +7 8172-78-78-25; atrium-vologda.ru) is considered the best in the city, and rooms cost 3,900 rubles to 5,000 rubles ($130 to $170) a night. This summer, the hotel welcomed designer Valentin Yudashkin and first lady Svetlana Medvedeva, who came to the city for its linen festival. Designer Slava Zaitsev opted for Hotel Angliter (23 Ulitsa Lermontova; +7 8172-76-24-36; angliter.ru), where rooms start at 1,700 rubles a night.

Many other Russian celebrities flock to the Nikolaevskiy Hotel Club (14 Ulitsa Kostromskaya; +7 8172-51-22-99; nikolaevskiy.ru), one of the most luxurious hotels in the city with rooms priced from 2,700 rubles to 11,000 rubles per night. The Nikolaevskiy has accommodated a number of pop stars, including Laima Vaikule, Chai Vdvoyom, Alla Pugachyova and Valery Leontyev.

Conversation starters

Like other cities, Vologda underwent a campaign in the 1990s to restore pre-revolutionary names for its streets. The campaign received a generally positive response. You can bring up a variation of the topic by asking Volodga residents whether they would like to put up a monument to Ivan the Terrible. Making the suggestion will show people your knowledge of their city. Plus, since Vologda currently has about 224 monuments of architectural importance, the locals likely won’t be averse to the suggestion.

Vologda residents are very proud of their city and will rarely speak ill of it, but they might be willing to discuss ways to improve it. You can echo local talk of putting more garbage cans in the city or suggest installing an ice rink on Kremlin Square, like the one on Moscow’s Red Square in the winter. The locals are big fans of winter sports but will be torn in deciding whether the recreation is worth changing the look of the historic city center.

How to get there

Vologda is located 460 kilometers to the north of Moscow and can be reached by train, plane or car. Several trains leave from the capital to Vologda each day. The journey takes about eight hours, and a round-trip ticket costs about 1,800 rubles.

A flight to Vologda’s only airport will take a little over an hour. Vologda Air (+7 8172-79-32-32; avia.vologda.ru) operates flights from Vnukovo Airport to Vologda on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Round-trip tickets start at 7,525 rubles.

Alternatively, driving to Vologda from Moscow will take five hours, not counting any traffic jams.