Sarica Church / KA.BA Conservation of Historic Buildings and Architecture Ltd

Cengiz Kabaoglu

Conservation Architect - Project Manager

Sarica Church / KA.BA Conservation of Historic Buildings and Architecture Ltd

Guvenevleri, Kibris Sokagi 4/1-2-3, Kavaklidere 06690 Ankara Turkey

Sarica Church Project in Urgup - Mustafapasa / Sinasos

Sarica Church Conservation and Restoration Project involves the conservation and restoration of a Byzantine church located in Cappadocia, Turkey. Initiated by the aspirations of a private firm, the project successfully enabled the revitalization of the dilapidated church and provided its accessibility to visitors. Within the unique geographical setting of Cappadocia, Sarica Church stands out as one of the properly restored and revitalized churches in the region.

Sarica Church is within a first degree natural conservation area and very close to the area in Cappadocia which was designated a World Heritage Site in 1985, namely the "Gouml;reme National Park and the Rock Sites of Cappadocia". Located within a geography known for the monastic life of the early Christian period in Anatolia (Asia Minor), Sarica Church is an example of troglodyte heritage, carving the naturally soft tuff stone that characterizes the region of Cappadocia to create living spaces.

The conservation and restoration of the church, features a ''nature repair'' approach, aimed to ensure the healthy survival of the building''s authentic architectural character, and introduce the information and visitor based functions of a permanent exhibition space.

Rock-carving tradition of Cappadocia

Rock-carving is a centuries-old tradition in Cappadocia. Especially dominant in the construction of churches, the method is simple: to carve a straight tunnel inside the rock and then to elaborate this into other spaces as required. The master usually starts from the top of the structure, finishing the upper structure of domes, vaults and arches first and then continuing to the bottom. Since there are no structural necessities involved in rock-carved buildings, such as having to construct columns or load-bearing walls, all the structural elements that are seen in these churches are all for appearances sake; in other words, the columns, domes, arches that are frequently used in rock-carved churches are actually not functional and merely serve the purpose of making the building look like a masonry construction. It is known that usually two or three workers did this work, depending on the hardness of the tuff stone. Following the end of the Byzantine Empire, these churches were never used as frequently as they were during the empire. These spaces were mostly used as storage units.

Architectural features of Sarica Church

Sarica Church, was constructed in a hybrid style, combining the early Byzantine ''cross-in-square'' plan seen from the 9th century onwards and the triconchs / tetraconchs plan seen in later centuries. The decorations on the church walls, made with a single colour of red ochre, are not sufficient for accurately dating the building. However, considering similarities with other churches in Cappadocia containing the cross-in-square plan layout, such as Elmali, Karanlik and Haci Ismail churches, which were dated to 10th-13th centuries in view of their wall paintings, Sarica Church can be dated to the same period. The church lying in an east-west direction, consists of a nave, narthex and a space (possibly a refectory - trapeza?) unearthed during restoration works.

State of Conservation and Use Before the Project

Sarica Church was in a very poor condition prior to conservation interventions. The current owner, who bought the land in which the church is located in 1992, did not make use of the church and it is not known when the church was last used for any purpose. Buried in earth, the building was a hidden ruin, with only a hole on top of the church that enabled entrance to it. When project work started, the exterior and interior of the building was accurately documented to reveal the state of the building.

Similar to many other rock-carved churches in Cappadocia, which no longer operate, Sarica Church had natural deterioration problems as well as housing evidences of later interventions that harmed several parts of the building. Deterioration is observed throughout the church and narthex spaces, whereas human interventions remain isolated.

Surface erosion is the most serious problem, observed in almost every space, especially the lower sections of the walls and columns. Columns in the church and narthex as well as the pilasters in the east space (refectory / trapeze) have eroded to a wide extent. This is a general deterioration problem encountered throughout the whole Cappadocian region. Flaking, yet another problem frequently observed in this region, is mostly seen in the upper structure of the narthex. One of the columns in the church space was missing, though one small part of it was found.

Examining the building in detail reveals that the church continued to be used after it ceased to function as a church. There are missing architectural elements; the altar stone must have been removed at some period. Other interventions, mostly carved niches, indicate that the church might have been used as a pigeon house for a while. An evidence of later use is the hole opening to the outside, either to let pigeons in or to light the interior. This prevented the interpretation of the dome as a whole. The ground at the entrance to the church space from the narthex side was carved out at some stage, leaving a big hole preventing pedestrian access to the church space.

In spite of the climatic effects of hundreds of years and human interventions, the qualities that make Sarica Church one of the characteristic churches of the Byzantine era can be easily identified. The decay and later interventions do not prevent the interpretation of its architectural plan and the church still maintains its former qualities.

The Project

Discovered by the sponsor firm VASCO during a tourism event in 1996, the church was unrecognizable from the outside and in a very poor physical condition. The project sponsor, which aspired to help preserve the ancient buildings in the Cappadocian region, made an application to the Turkish Ministry of Culture for the necessary permission to repair Sarica Church. Work started following the permission that was granted. A conservation and restoration project for the church was started in August 1997 and completed in April 1998 upon the approval of the Nevsehir Regional Council for Protection of Cultural and Natural Heritage. Project implementation took place between the years 2001 - 2004.

For the project's documentation purposes, drawings were prepared based on the site work where optic / electronic and manual measurements were made, as well as various analyses on the building''s defects. The documentation was followed by an evaluation study and a restitution project examining the building''s past and present periods.

The conservation - restoration project, prepared on the basis of the gathered findings, features a ''nature repair'' approach, aimed to ensure the healthy survival of the building''s authentic architectural character, and introduce the information and visitor based functions of a permanent exhibition space. Thus, measures were taken for the removal of harmful human interventions and natural damage, for repairs to be made within the framework of emergency consolidation, such as the reinforcement of the natural material and remedy of cracks in the rock of the superstructure.


At first, all plants, soil, debris, etc. were cleared off the site and a survey excavation was conducted, leading to the discovery of an additional space believed to be a refectory.

For the repair of architectural elements on the dome and facade, which had undergone severe erosion by rainwater, the damaged parts were supported by load-bearing scaffolding, and the softened rock was replaced with harder local tuff stone of similar color. The exterior dome surface was filled with light gravel until the original rock profile was regained.

The main aim of the implementation works was the redirection of naturally formed drainage channels to manage the rainwater that damaged the church, while maintaining the authentic rock structure and material. Within this scope, a new drainage canal and a low wall were constructed, buried in the soil, along the vineyard boundary on the hill where the church is located. Eroded stone on the facade was also replaced by a covering of harder tuff stone. Afterwards, a steel matting was hung over the church roof and facade, suspended from the wall by thin steel cables and covered with layers of a local sand- hydraulic lime mixture, in a way that catches the even, natural surface. A layer of local slate was then applied to the surface to hold the soil.

Afterwards, the wall paintings of the narthex and nave, featuring mostly geometric designs, were repaired by specialist restorers.

Following these conservation works, the building was adapted to enable visitors to see the building and get information on the project. For this purpose, a walkway was designed which was built at a distance to the walls, and information panels were erected in the narthex. Appropriate lighting provided the interiors to be fully interpreted.

The church began operating in 2004. Today, the church is open to visitors from 1 April to 31 October. There is also a tour guide / attendant present at the church at all times.


Sarica Church has received two prestigious awards in the year 2004. Within the scope of the National Architecture Exhibition and Awards, which is considered the highest award of the architecture community and the ninth of which was held, KA.BA Conservation of Historic Buildings and Architecture Ltd received the ''Conservation Award'' in the building category for the Sarica Church Conservation - Restoration and Exhibition Project.

The ''Green Palm'' Award of GEO - SAISON, one of the largest tourism magazines of Germany, has been given to Dr. Yusuf Ornek, Owner of VASCO Tourism Investment Industry and Trade Inc, for his efforts to preserve the Sarica Church.

Furthermore, Sarica Church, received an Achievement award from the Association of Historic Towns and Regions, Encouragement Award for historic Heritage Conservation Projects and Implementations.

Lastly, the church received the European Union Prize for Cultural Heritage / EUROPA NOSTRA Awards, 2006 / Architectural Heritage Top Prize. This is the first time a project in Turkey is being so honored.


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