Standing on a high plateau, the Cathedral of Mren rises out of the landscape surrounded by the ruined foundations of an ancient settlement. The structure was built during the reign of Heraclius in 638 AD and is associated with the Prince of Armenia and Syria, Dawit’ Saharuni. Mren is thought to be the largest preserved domed basilica from seventh-century Armenia. It was built with rubble masonry, the characteristic building technique of medieval Armenia and Georgia, and decorated with interior frescoes and a ceramic tile roof. As the cathedral changed hands over the centuries, additions and inscriptions were added to the structure. The surrounding settlement ceased to exist after the Turkmen invasions in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and the cathedral has been abandoned and exposed to the elements for hundreds of years. Recently its deterioration has escalated dramatically. Several years ago the south façade collapsed, which threatened the structural integrity of the cathedral as a whole. Access to the site’s isolated location in the Kars region of Turkey is not easy and requires permission from government authorities because it is located within a militarized zone. Documentation of Mren is the first critical step toward preserving this remarkable site in perpetuity.
3D laser scanning technology enables a thorough analysis of the cathedral’s condition
Mren was included on the 2014 World Monuments Watch to raise awareness about the site’s artistic and cultural significance and to enhance its protection. In June 2015, with support from the U.S. Department of State’s Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation, we conducted preliminary documentation and analysis of the cathedral complete with a full 3D laser scan. With the information gleaned from this assessment, we created the initial outline of an emergency conservation plan for the site. Physical conservation work is in the planning stages.
Constructed during the Byzantine-Persian wars and at the beginning of the Arab conquests, Mren Cathedral represents a moment of creation and collaboration during a time of major destruction. The commencement of our project represents an important victory for advancing the dialogue surrounding the sites on the Turkish-Armenian border. With a long-term commitment to the nearby Church of the Holy Redeemer and Ani Cathedral, we are pleased to be able to provide assistance to another important site in the region.