Otkhta Monastic Complex


Nino Bagrationi
Giorgi Bagrationi
Giorgi Bagrationi
Gia Shervashidze

Otkhta Church is referred to as ‘a great laura’ in historical records. According to the Life of Ioane and Epvtime, it was at Otkhta that the fathers stayed before leaving for Greece and founding Iveron Monastery on Mount Athos.

Of the once large laura arranged as terraces nothing but few structures including monastic buildings and churches, survive. The principal church is a large basilica which can be reached from the north.

The church is divided into three naves by means of four pairs of columns. However, the paired columns are not distributed proportionally and when looking at a plan, the building may appear as a domed church. Yet attentive observation of the walls allows to assume that originally the columns had been arranged rhythmically but were later relocated for reasons remaining unclear.

The apse is broad and has double-room and double-tiered chambers on each side. There are traces of numerous alterations. It is of note that the lateral walls as well as the lower portion of the sanctuary which has lost its plastering are built usingopus mixtumtechnique. The central core, the columns, the vaults and arches are of stone. Structural parts are made of smoothly finished stone.

The church bears other signs of alterations.It is obvious that the sanctuary conch and the west wall were elevated. The galleries in the west part are also a later addition.

The façades are finished with neatly hewn yellow stone. The traces of elevating the roof are visible on the east and west façades just below the pediments. The façades are adorned with an unbroken arcade with five arches on the east and five, on the west. The upper and lower layers of the lateral elevations are also decorated with an arcade. Although it is the south façade that receives light and traditionally the south elevation is the ‘main’ façade, at Otkhta it is the north façade that is most lavishly decorated and adorned with with twisted shafts.

Otkhta lacks figural reliefs. Only a cross inscribed in a circle is represented at the base of the conch of the east apse next to which survives the following glorifying inscription: ‘[ke] glory Davit Kuropalates’. Otkhta façades bear some other inscriptions.

Concentrated in the apse, the mural paintings are divided into five registers. The most remarkable is the personification of the City of Jerusalem represented at the top of the sanctuary window, an image of a woman holding a church with a horn of abundance accompanied with an inscription which reads as ‘Sioni’ (Zion).

The church vaults covered with tiles preserve to the present day.

With rain and irrigation water leaking into the church the humidity level in the interior is high.

To the north-west of the church are to be found monastic buildings, a large double-nave hall and a building with small rooms on its west.

To the south-east of Otkhta Church stands a small, double-storeyed hall-type church. The ground level must have accommodated a monastic ossuary, which is indicated by multiple bones on the ground and under the earth.

The church is built with theopus mixtumtechnique, which implied alternated use of brick and stone and was prevalent in Byzantium.

Otkhta Church was located near the Byzantine border and the exposureto the outside world has left its mark on construction.