The Saransk Fortress was built in 1641 at the confluence of the Saranka and Insar rivers. In the 16th−17th centuries, a network of fortifications (called “zasechnaya cherta” meaning the “abatis border”) was erected in the territory of modern Mordovia, to protect the Russian tsardom from raids by Crimean Tatars, Nogais and Bashkirs.
In the woods, the abatis were made of undercut and cut down trees. The steppe was fortified with earth mounds and moats, swamps and lowlands with posts and palisades. Towers, forts and fortified settlements were built along the abatis border.
Since its establishment, Saransk played a very important role in border protection. The new city was assigned a substantial number of Cossacks, archers, gunners and guards from the neighboring forts.
Until the mid-17th century, when the Penza fortress was built, Saransk was a key point of border defense.
Guarded by the Saransk border troops, the country explored and colonized the sparsely populated lands to the south of the border.
Eventually, the fortress lost its importance as a center of defense. However, Saransk went through rather turbulent “youth.” The city became a target for rebels. In 1670, it was seized by the troops of Stepan Razin, the leader of a peasant uprising. One hundred years later, Yemelyan Pugachyov’s soldiers stayed in the city for almost a week.
In 1785, Catherine the Great approved a new layout for Saransk and disorderly construction was replaced by a rectangular grid of streets with city blocks and squares. In the late 18th and the early 19th centuries, Saransk became famous for its street markets. Horse breeders would bring their horses for sale from neighboring regions; merchants would bring woolen textiles, silk, ceramics and glassware.
In the late 19th century, the Moscow-Kazan railway was laid through Saransk, which, nevertheless, did not become a major industrial city. Saransk remained an idyllic and peaceful provincial town.
However, soon, in June 2018, this idyllic countryside town will become part of the big football celebrations and host the games of the World Cup’s group stage.
The Church of St. John the Apostle is one of the few architectural landmarks preserved since the 17th century. It was built in the Moscow baroque style in 1693, 50 years after the city was founded, in what was then an archers’ district. Later, in the early 18th century, a bell tower and a refectory were added. For a long time, the church was the only active Russian Orthodox church in Saransk. Between 1991 and 2006 (when the Cathedral of the Holy Righteous Warrior Fyodor Ushakov was consecrated), it was also a cathedral of the Saransk and Mordovian eparchy.
Admiral Fyodor Ushakov, who commanded the Black Sea Fleet in 1790−1792 and the Russian Navy in the Mediterranean in 1798−1800, is considered the patron saint of Saransk.
During the 1798−1800 Mediterranean campaign, Ushakov participated in the liberation of Corfu from the French. The operation completed the liberation of the Ionian Islands from the French rule and contributed to the establishment of the Septinsular Republic, the first form of Greek self-governance since the fall of the Empire of Trebizond. Fyodor Ushakov lived in Mordovia until his death and was buried in the Sanaksar Monastery 150 km from Saransk.
In 2001, the Russian Orthodox Church canonized Fyodor Ushakov as a righteous warrior. On August 6, 2006 the Cathedral of the Holy Righteous Warrior Fyodor Ushakov was consecrated. At 40 meters above ground around the tholobate, there is an observation deck that provides a picturesque panorama of the city and its suburbs.
Next to the cathedral, on Victory Square, there is a memorial to Mordovian soldiers killed in the Great Patriotic War, with a museum, an eternal flame, the Chapel of St. Alexander Nevsky and the Escape From Hell obelisk in memory of the Soviet prisoners of war who escaped from a German concentration camp on a seized Heinkel He 111 bomber aircraft.
The Stepan Erzia Mordovian Museum of Fine Arts is located in downtown Saransk. The museum has the largest collection of works by the sculptor, who worked with bronze, marble and hard wood.
One of the most interesting Saransk attractions is traditions and customs of the region’s ethnicities, the Erzya and the Mokshas.
Residents of several villages near Saransk still observe the customs of their ancestors. They dress in traditional clothes and can tell the story behind each detail. They also have their own rituals, many of which have pagan origins.
Next summer, Saransk will become part of a big football festival. Mordovia Arena will host four group stage matches of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™.
The stadium is located near the city center in the floodplain of the Insar River. Architects designed it to resemble the red sphere of the sun, Mordovia’s symbol that features on the republic’s flag.
During the 2018 World Cup, Mordovia Arena will be able to take in 45,000 spectators. The stands are designed to give an excellent view of the football field from each and every seat.
By plane: Saransk Airport is located 8 km from the city center. There are direct flights from Moscow that take less than two hours.
By train: The main railway station is right in the city center. The Mordovia first-class fast train departs from Moscow daily. Travel time is 9.5 hours.
Transit trains from St. Petersburg terminating in Samara, Ufa and Togliatti will take passengers to Saransk in about 30 hours.
Transit trains are also available from other World Cup host cities. The train ride from Nizhny Novgorod will take 6 hours, and the train ride from Sochi 40 hours.
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