The city serves as a major transport hub of the Northwest of Russia. The Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation has classified Vologda as an historic city, one of forty-one in Russia and one of only three in Vologda Oblast. 224 buildings in Vologda have been officially recognized[by whom?] as cultural heritage monuments.
Two conflicting theories exist as to the date of Vologda's foundation.
The year 1147 is the official date first fixed in 1780 by Alexey Zasetsky in his book "Stories about miracles of Gerasimus of Vologda". The story mentions that in 1147 the Trinity Monastery was founded close to the Vologda River. The date of the foundation of the monastery is then taken as the date of the foundation of the city of Vologda and is mentioned in official city documents. This date, which would make Vologda to be of the same age as Moscow, is, however, not supported by any scientific data and is considered by authoritative sources to be fictional. The story was only written in 1666 by a certain Foma, who got a request from Archbishop Markel to produce the vita of Gerasimus. Foma himself admitted that he had no sufficient data on the biography. The story contains many contradicting details. Besides, the monastic life in the Russian north was not known in the 12th century: the first monastery in Vladimir was founded in 1152, in Rostov in 1212, in the Belozersk area in 1251. Archeological excavations do not confirm this date either. Instead, they demonstrate that the city of Vologda was founded in the 13th century.
The year 1264 was the first mention of Vologda when it was included in the list of possessions of the Novgorod Republic in the agreement between the Republic and the Grand Prince of Vladimir. This date is also supported by archaeological data.
The nucleus of Vologda in the 13th century was not located in the area which is now the city center, but rather the area known now as "Lazy ground" (Ленивая площадка), close to the Resurrection church. This area was the center of Vologda up to 1565. Until that year, no stone constructions existed in Vologda: all of the city fortifications, bridges, houses, churches, and industrial enterprises were made of wood.
The unique position of Vologda on important waterways connecting Moscow, Novgorod, and the White Sea (via the Northern Dvina) made it attractive for the Novgorod Republic, as well as for the princes of the Tver and the Moscow, who fought numerous wars between the 13th and the 15th centuries.
In 1371, Dmitry Prilutsky, a monk from the Nikolsky Monastery in Pereslavl-Zalessky, founded Nikolsky Monastery, now known as Spaso-Prilutsky Monastery, close to the city. Dmitry Donskoy, the Grand Prince of Moscow, was the chief benefactor of the monastery and viewed it as a stronghold of the influence of the Grand Duchy of Moscow in the Northern lands in competition with Novgorod.