The Russian city of Vologda is known as the country’s lace capital. The lacemaking tradition in this city, some 470 kilometres north of Moscow, dates back centuries, and it provides scores of jobs for locals. The city was placed on the map when local products won top accolades at international exhibitions in the US in the late 1800s and in Paris and Brussels between the 20s and 60s. In the late 1800s Vologda counted some 4,000 lacemakers; today the region’s lace is still in high demand in Russia and around the world.
The special role that lace plays in Vologda’s economy and cultural heritage was honoured in 2010 with the opening of a lace museum. It brings together hundreds of exhibits spread out over 1500 square metres. An international lace festival, VITA LACE, is also now held in the city; the first one was held in June 2011 and the next one is between June 26 and 28 this year. There are exhibitions, competitions, workshops and fashion shows.
People in the city proudly point out that pop sensation Beyoncé chose to wear an outfit made out of Vologda lace in the video for her recent hit Jealous. The garment was made by the successful Russian designer Ulyana Sergeenko.
Vologda lace is made by hand, not with industrial machines, and dozens of workers can spend weeks finishing a single item. Among the individual pieces on display in the Museum of Lace, it’s possible to recognise some well-known symbols and landmarks of Russia, including the impressive Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow.
The location of the early 19th century building that houses Vologda’s Museum of Lace couldn’t be better for visitors. It lies just across a courtyard from the Vologda Kremlin, a complex that includes the famous St. Sofia Cathedral, which dates back to 1568 and is full of unique religious artwork, and the Cathedral of the Resurrection. It’s no exaggeration to say that from its elegant lace to superb frescoes, Vologda has the wow factor!
The construction of numerous important sites in Vologda began under the orders of Ivan the Terrible, who actually made the city the capital of Russia between 1565 and 1571. The cathedral itself remained unfinished when Ivan the Terrible abandoned Vologda as the capital, and it was only properly completed some 18 years later. According to local legend, Ivan the Terrible angrily left the city after a piece of masonry fell on him during an inspection of the building work.
It really is well worth it to go inside St. Sofia and admire the vast array of 17th century frescoes, 18th century icon paintings and other religious artwork.
And if you get the chance to climb the bell tower opposite the cathedral (73 metres high), you won’t be disappointed. Twenty five historic bells regularly ring out. There’s a great 360° view when you get to the top, and the wooden staircase and interior of the belfry are wonderful.
The Vologda Kremlin is a unique blend of architecture that reflects the styles of three different centuries. The different views within the complex, as well as all the detail inside the different buildings, will keep you occupied for hours; and visitors will really regret not taking a camera, or not having enough memory cards or batteries!
Text and photos by Seamus Kearney