The Saint Sophia Cathedral is a Russian Orthodox church and the oldest extant building in the city of Vologda. It was erected between 1568 and 1570 under personal supervision of Tsar Ivan the Terrible in that period when Vologda was the capital of the Oprichnina lands in Russia. The construction was completed in 1587. The cathedral is located on the right bank of the Vologda River, just outside the former Archbishop’s Residence known as the Vologda Kremlin now.
The cathedral was built in 1568-1570, when Ivan the Terrible introduced the Oprichnina and made Vologda its capital. The Assumption Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin served as a model for it. Ivan the Terrible personally supervised its construction, and the builders were permitted to use almost unlimited resources. Besides, for some unknown reason, the tsar changed the orientation of the cathedral: its altar apse does not face east as is common in Orthodox churches, but rather northeast. In 1571, Ivan the Terrible unexpectedly left Vologda and returned to Moscow. Soon afterwards, he abolished the Oprichnina and never showed any further interest in Vologda. He even gave an order to demolish the cathedral when he left the city, but later withdrew it. By that time, the church was built, but not decorated or consecrated. Its construction was completed during the reign of Fyodor Ioannovich, son of Ivan the Terrible, and it was consecrated in 1587.
The frescoes in the cathedral were painted between 1685 and 1687 by a group of artists from Yaroslavl under the direction of Dmitry Plekhanov.
The bell-tower of the cathedral is the highest building in Vologda. It is 78 metres (256 ft) high. The first wooden bell-tower was constructed at the end of the 16th century. It was replaced with an octagonal stone structure in 1654–1659. The vaulted dome of the bell-tower in the pseudo-gothic style was built by Vladimir Schildknecht, chief architect of the Vologda Province, in 1869 by the order of Bishop Palladius. The bells have their own names. The Big Holiday Bell was cast in 1687, the Water-Carrier Bell - in 1643, the Watch Bell - in 1627, the Archangel Bell - in 1689, the Big Swan Bell - in 1689, and the Little Swan Bell - in 1656. The bell-tower is also known as a watch tower. Its chiming clock was manufactured at the Brothers Butenop Factory in Moscow in 1871. People can admire a panoramic view of the city from its observation deck.
The cathedral was closed in the Soviet times. Now it is a museum.