Tao-Klarjeti – The lost beauty of Georgia
04 August, 2017
Tao-Klarjeti – The lost beauty of Georgia
Tao-Klarjeti is a part of Georgian historical region of Upper Kartli, Mesxeti. The name of the province is made up on the names of two most important regions — Tao and Klarjeti.

The place is notable for a number of cultural monuments and historical ruins dating back to the middle ages.

The region of Tao-Klarjeti has been under the influence of many states and empires during its long history.

The area was part of Georgia and was administered by the
princes of Samtskhe-Saatabago until conquered by the Ottomans in 1551. During their rule, a policy of Islamization was implemented and many of the Christian churches were demolished and transformed into mosques.

Following the Russian-Turkish war of 1877-1878, most of the former Tao-Klarjetian territory was claimed by the Russian Empire, but it was taken back by the Turks through the Brest-Litovsk Treaty with the Russian SFSR (Soviet Federative Socialist Republic) in 1918.

The Ottoman defeat in World War I allowed the newly created Democratic Republic of Georgia to regain control of the region. Olti district, which was disputed between Georgians and Armenians, remained under Turkish control.

However, when Georgia was invaded by Soviet Red Army in February 1921 and lost its independence again, the area was reoccupied by Turkey. Russia handed over Tao-Klarjeti to Turkey under the Treaty of Moscow signed between the Turkish and Soviet governments on 16 March 1921. This historical part of the Georgia remains within Turkey’s territory up to present.

Even though many historical monuments have been destroyed or substituted by other buildings, yet a number of churches, monasteries, bridges and castles have been preserved on the across the area. However is a pity that most of them are in very bad conditions and even on the brink of collapse.

Tao-Klarjeti is best known for the following monasteries built by Georgians : Khandzta, Khakhuli, Ancha, Opiza, the churches of Oshki, Ishkhani, Bana, Doliskana, Otkhta and Tbeti.

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Sad Georgian father in Khandzta. Photo courtesy Giorgi Nikolava

Khandzta
was a medieval Georgian monastery founded by Gregory of Khandzta (prominent Georgian ecclesiastic figure and a founder and leader of numerous monastic communities in Tao-Klarjeti) in 782 AD.

In 780 the future St Gregory of Khandzta moved to Tao-Klarjeti to revive Georgian monasticism in the region. He originally resided at the monastery of Opiza but then founded his own monastery at Khandzta in 782, and soon it became the center of monastic life in Tao-Klarjeti under his direction. Its influence lasted after his death in 861. In the 10th century, a local monk, Giorgi Merchule, wrote a Life of Gregory, celebrated as a masterpiece of Georgian medieval hagiography.

The first church at Khandzta was built of wood by Gregory and his companions. In 820, during the reign of Ashot I, a stone church was built to replace it by the nobleman Gabriel Dapanchuli. The present church seems to be a replacement again, dating from 918 . The construction was completed in 941.

A freestanding bell-tower was added in the 16th century. From that time, the integration of the region into the Ottoman Empire and the active Islamisation of the population led to the decline of the monastery, and its eventual abandonment.

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Photo courtesy Giorgi Nikolava

Khakhuli Monastery was a Georgian Orthodox monastery in historical Medieval Georgian Kingdom of Tao (modern-day Turkey), in one of the gorges of the Tortum river. The main church is now used as a mosque.

Khakhuli was a very important center of literature and Georgian culture and many Georgian scholars and theologians studied and worked in Khakhuli including Basil of Khakhuli, Ioane Khakhuleli, Davit Tbileli, and Giorgi Mtatsmindeli.

Khakhuli Monastery was founded in the second half of the 10th century by King David III Kurapalates. In the 16th century, prior to the Ottoman conquest of southern Georgian territories, Khakhuli was part of Kartli Catholicate. After the Ottoman conquest of Tao, Khakhuli got isolated from Georgia.

An Iconic 12th-century triptych Icon of the Mother of God created at the Khakhuli Monastery is one of Georgia's finest examples of medieval Georgian goldsmithery. Currently it is preserved in the Art Museum of Georgia. Also, there are several small chapels around the Church, within the circuit wall, one of which dates back to the 10th century.

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Photo courtesy Nicholas Marr

Ancha was a medieval Georgian monastery and cathedral church of the Bishopric of Ancha, located in thevicinity of village of Anaçlı, Artvin Province, Turkey. The church now lies almost completely in ruins.

The earliest recorded information about the monastery of Ancha is found in c. 951 Vitae of Gregory of Khandzta by Giorgi Merchule, according to which it dates back to the early 9th century. It functioned as one of the principal religious and cultural centers of the principality of Klarjeti, which was wrested of the Georgian control by the Ottoman Empire in the 1550s. By the middle of the 17th century, the church had been completely abandoned. Its surviving Christian relics, such as the venerated icon of the Savior, were transferred to the Georgian capital of Tbilisi.

After the Russian takeover of the Artvin province, the historical Georgian churches and monasteries of the area were visited, in 1879, by the Georgian scholar Dimitri Bakradze, who reported severe damage to Ancha.

In 1904, Nicholas Marr reported that only a portion of the monastery’s north-western and northern walls and an altar apse with a fragment of the cupola had been survived.

Unfortunately, nowadays the building is almost completely ruined.

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Photo courtesy Giorgi Nikolava

Oshki is a Georgian church dating back the second half of the 10th century located in the historic province of Tao, now part of the territory of Turkey. The main church was built between 963 and 973. The monastery is resides in Turkey,in the village of Çamlıyamaç, in northeastern Erzurum Province, bordering Artvin Province.

Oshki monastery was a major center of Georgian literature and enlightenment during the Middle Ages. The construction of the monastery at Oshki was sponsored by the Georgian Kings Bagrat Eristavt-Eristavi (prince of princes) and David III Bagrationi Kuropalates.

The first inscription in Oshki temple is made with Singuri color (light red) and is located over the southern main entrance to the temple. Nowadays 12 lines still exist. All inscriptions are written with Mrgvlovani, the earliest version of Georgian script. The first scientist who explored this inscription was Marie-Félicité Brosset, a French orientalist who specialized in Georgian and Armenian studies.

Later these inscriptions were studied by Ekvtime Takaishvili and Vakhtang Djobadze. As noted by Vakhtang Djobadze, the first inscription gives a lot of information about the temple. It mentions the names of Ktetors of the church - Georgian kings Bagrat Eristavt-Eristavi and David III Kuropalates.

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Photo courtesy Giorgi Nikolava

Ishkhani is a ruined Christian monastery in the territory of Turkey in the village of Arpacık, Artvin province. It was one of the important spiritual centers in the Middle Ages Tao-Klarjeti.

Unfortunately, only the magnificent church and the adjacent chapel have survived. The earliest mention of the monastery is found in The Life of Grigol Khandzteli, a Georgian manuscript dating back to 951 year, which is now kept in Jerusalem.

The monastery used to be one of the five patriarchates of Tao-Klarjeti and its church functioned as a cathedral until the 17th century. It was used as the headquarters for the Ottoman officers during the Russo-Turkish War in the 19th century, while its west part was transformed into a mosque and remained so until 1983.

In 1987, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism (Turkey) registered Ishkhani as a national cultural monument and the site is now protected. In 2013, the Monastery was being renovated, but work stopped because Georgian side said the work was done improperly.

Ruins of a mediaeval fortress of the same name were found on the rocky mountain to the northwest of the church. The fortress was probably one of the most important fortifications in Tao-Klarjeti, and once served as shelter to the Prince Giorgi V, (the Brilliant )of Georgia.

According to the information of Ibrahim Peçevi (an Ottoman Bosnian historian of the Ottoman Empire), the fortress was probably demolished during an Ottoman campaign in 1549.

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Photo courtesy Giorgi Nikolava

Bana is a ruined early medieval cathedral in present-day Erzurum Province, eastern Turkey.

Generally believed to have been constructed in the 7th century, based on an 11th-century chronicle it was reconstructed by Adarnase IV of Iberia between 881 and 923.

It was used as a royal cathedral by the Bagrationi dynasty until the Ottoman conquest of the area in the 16th century. The former cathedral was converted into a fortress by the Ottoman army during the Crimean War. The monastery was almost completely ruined during the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-78.

On December 9, 2016, in the Patriarchate of the Georgian Orthodox Church was held a presentation of Bana cathedral reconstruction project with an already existing model of the cathedral. As it is planned, the cathedral will be built in the east Georgian town Surami.

The church was first described and sketched by the German botanist Karl Koch in 1843. He declared it the most remarkable church in the East after the Hagia Sophia.

From 1902 to 1907, the ruins of Bana were scrupulously studied by an expedition led by the Georgian archaeologist Ekvtime Taqaishvili. The monument was a subject of study of some Western scholars during the Cold War era.

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Photo courtesy Giorgi Nikolava

Doliskana is a Georgian medieval Orthodox church in the Medieval Georgian kingdom of Klarjeti (modern-day Artvin Province of Turkey). It is now used as a mosque. Its construction was finished in the mid 10th century, during the rule of Sumbat I of Iberia. It is located high above the right bank of the Imerkhevi River.

On the exterior walls of the church are several short inscriptions written in the Georgian Asomtavruli script. The inscriptions date to the first half of the 10th century. One mentions the prince and titular king Sumbat I of Iberia and says: "Christ, glorify our King Sumbat with longevity”.

Another one can be translated like this: "Jesus Christ, have mercy on the church of our kings, o Christ have mercy”.

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Photo courtesy Giorgi Nikolava

Otkhta is a 10th-century Georgian church which was built in 961–965 by Davit Kurapalat and renewed in 978–1001. Georgian monastery and cathedral church is located in Dörtkilise, the town of Yusufeli, Artvin Province, Turkey.

Otkhta is one of the large cathedrals in Tao-Klarjeti, with Oshki, Ishkhani and khakhuli, and one version that is why it is called Otkhta, which means in English "from fourth".

Otkhta monastery consists of additional constructions of Seminary, dining-hall and some little chapels; they are almost destroyed. Even the main cathedral Otkhta is in quite hard condition.

The church is later period Georgian Basilica and is considered to be one of the most important models in this field. the architectural structure of church is different from another Georgian Basilics, like Sion of Bolnisi and Ruisi.

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Photo courtesy Lika Abralava

Opiza
was a medieval Georgian monastery and cathedral church located now in Artvin Province, Turkey. It is one of the oldest Georgian churches in the Tao-Klarjeti region. Opiza was reconstructed after an Arab invasion in the 8th century. It is referred to many Georgian historical persons, such as Gregory of Khandzta.

A lot of famous Georgian ecclesiastical figures and scribes lived and worked in Opiza: Grigol Khandzteli, Michael Parekeli, Serapion Zarzmeli, Giorgi Mawkverveli (IX-X cc), Athanase Opizeli (XI c.), Ioane Opizeli (XIII c.), Ilarion Opizari (XIII c.).

Also, in Opzia was a workshop, whose representatives were the famous masters of the second half of the 12th century Beshken and Beka Opizars.

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Tbeti, 1888. Photo courtesy Pavlinov

Tbeti Monastery, medieval Georgian Orthodox monastery in Historical Southern Georgia, was an important cultural hub of medieval Georgia. A number of hagiographical works were created by the monks living there.

It is Located in modern Turkey, on the right bank of the river Imkerkhevi, 15 kilometers away from the town Shavsheti.

The monastery of Tbeti included several monasteries, but nowadays only the ruins of the main church still remain.

The monastery was active in the second half of the XVII century, after which the local population opened a Muslim shrine in the building which was functioning until the end of the XIX century. Unfortunately, the church is severely damaged now.

Related stories:

Historic discovery: Unique 11th-century floor uncovered at Ishkhani monastery


Hell Canyon – A bit of Georgia on Turkish territory


How Tao-Klarjeti looks - Giorgi Margvelashvili visited historical region


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