TAO-KLARJETI, THE REMAINS OF FORGOTTEN KINGDOM
In 12th and 13th centuries, Tao-Klarjeti was a part of United Kingdom of Georgia. It was only in the 16th century when Turco-Mongol conqueror Timur led to the demise of the kingdom leading to Tao-Klarjeti becoming a part of modern day Turkey. The term Tao-Klarjeti comes from two provinces i.e. Tao and Klarjeti. Today, salient remnants of the principality’s spiritual influence remain placed in tiny Turkish villages among the visually fascinating Kaçkar Mountains near the Turkey-Georgia border.
Several monuments of medieval Georgian architecture – abandoned or converted churches, monasteries, bridges and castles – are scattered across the area. The best known are the monasteries of Khandzta, Khakhuli, Ancha, the churches of Oshki, Ishkhani, Bana, Parkhali, Doliskana, Otkhta Eklesia, Opiza, Parekhi and Tbeti.
Turkey is the home for many Georgian monasteries, one of them being Oshki Monastery in Erzurum Province. It was built between 963 and 973 AD. The monastery has a central open dome, and the southern façade which serves as the main entrance. There are different sculptures used to decorate such as an eagle with an animal in its mouth, archer hunting sheep, etc. It’s menacing to know that many of the decorations of the church has been stolen. The monastery’s frailty is not all romantic. Its condition is becoming worse as there are discrepancies between the Turkish and Georgian governments to restore the monastery.
Ishan Church which is near the village of Arpacik was first mentioned in a Georgian manuscript from 951 AD. It has gone through a chaotic restoration. If we look at the architectural aspects it is somewhat haphazard. For instance, the stone exterior contradicts the building’s age, on the other hand, smooth, square-cut stones look modern. The roof of the church is uneven red tiled which gives a slack approach to the preservation prevailing in the region.
Next comes the Dortkilise church which sets an example of infrastructural developments in the area. One will run through an uneven road from the town of Yusufeli, besides a small river. The church is surrounded by gardens and grazing grounds and is a part of a larger monastery complex. Unlike Oshki and Ishan churches, it has a tall, steep roof. It was mentioned in the Georgian manuscript of 1031 that the church was founded by Bagrationi clerics who had a belief in the Georgian Orthodox and spread it throughout Tao-Klarjeti.
There are faded images of the Orthodox Christian saints over the walls, however, the white wall underneath them are despoiled. The church has been used as a barn which has supported by the fact that the floors are littered with wreckage.
It cannot be denied that the medieval architecture and craftsmanship is splendid and it’s still possible to restore the churches even after seeing their derelict condition. However, a unified preservation plan is required to bring out the thoughts of restoration into action.