|Reminding a fairycountry with its magnificent churches and castles on the predominant hills the Çoruh Valley carries the traces of different historical periods.|
The density of castles on the Bayburt-Ispir-Yusufeli route is the proof that the security of the region had been closely maintained.
Located in a region of rich mineral resources, copper being in the first place, the Valley had been in an indispensable position to ensure control over minerals and transport them easily to the shores of Black Sea.
Despite the fact that the Çoruh Valley is a mountanious area where the natural and historical roads from Caucasia and Black Sea converge the ancient Greek historian Strabon says “…since there are many places well irrigated and covered with forests and deep carved valleys and gorges, Paryadros Mountain chain makes the contruction of big castles easy…” about the region.
The Monastery of Barhal (Parhali)Barhal Monastery is located in a forested valley close to the straggling village of Barhal, also known as Altıparmak. To reach it drive north from Yusufeli along the scenic valley of the Barhal River for about 40 kilometres. Once you find yourself among the scattered houses of Barhal village, take a right into a narrow and densely wooded side valley, where you will immediately see the church standing on a steep slope, also to your right. Although it was once surrounded by the usual complement of auxilliary monastic structures, the church now stands alone and apart from two chapels which stand on the far side of the valley. The church is remarkably well-preserved, partly as a result of the fact that for nearly three centuries it has been used as the village mosque.The church of Barhal is dedicated to St John the Baptist and was first mentioned in the “Barhal Bible,” a manuscript copied during the reign of King David Magistros (reign 961-1001). The building is thought to have been constructed between 961 and 973. The two chapels also date back to the same period. The church shows signs of later additions and renovations. The portico in front of the south entrance is one of these, made during the reign of King Alexander (1412-1442). An inscription in the nave says that the church was restored during the Patriarchate of Johannes (1489-1507). A portico was added to the west entrance by Atabeg Khvarkvare in 1518. Barhal monastery remained in service up until the 17th century. An Ottoman imperial edict dated 1677 cites that the church was repaired by Hacı Şerif Efendi and turned into a mosque.In terms of dimensions and style, the church of Barhal very closely resembles the main church at Dört Kilise, though it is a little smaller, being only 28.4 metres long and 18.65 metres wide. Both have a simple basilical design without a dome, which distinguishes them sharply from Haho, Öşk and Işhan. The nave is divided into five bays by arches carried on massive cruciform piers, two of which have niches adorned with stylized floral and figural relief-carvings, including a fragmentary angel. The apse is flanked by small rectangular side chambers that open into the aisles. At the western end of the nave there is a gallery that was added later. The church has entrances on its south and west sides. It also has numerous arched windows. The north and the south entrances were blocked up when the church was turned into a mosque. The original south entrance has been walled up to form a mihrab. The church rests on a three-stepped podium. The building was made of rubble infill construction faced with beautifully crafted ashlar masonry. The overall effect is one of noble simplicity.The frescoes that must have once adorned the interior have not survived but the external decoration is unusualy lively and attractive. All four façades are enlivened by blind arcades and all have relief-carvings. Most of these are abstract, or nearly so, consisting of palmettes, lozenges, interlaces, geometric patterns and crosses, but there are also figural elements, including a standing lion, two opposed peacocks and bearded male figures wearing long tunics with extended arms. There is an inscription bearing the name Theodore who is thought to be the architect of the church. Sun-burst motifs painted in red adorn the south facade.
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 Ottoman-Russian wars in the 19th century, while its west arm was converted into a mosque and remained so until 1983. In 1987, the Turkish Ministry of Culture registered İşhan as a national cultural monument and the site is now protected.
The church (outer dimensions 35.00 x 20.70 meters) is a domed cruciform structure. The dome over the central square bay rests on four free-standing piers, each having a diameter of about two-meters. The eastern cross-arm is extended with an apse that has a unique arrangement. A horseshoe-shaped arcade whose arches rest on eight monolithic columns with decorated cubic capitals opens on to a rectangular ambulatory. The rooms flanking the apse have upper stories.
Barhal is a unique Pontic village which has developed during the last 150 years alongside a famous monastic Georgian church built between 961-73AD. The village consists of small clusters of stone and wood houses located along a series of vegetable terraces connected by paths. Ancient conduits have been built to allow water diverted from the river to flow alongside each path and irrigate the terraces below which are edged with white mulberry, apple, pear, plum, persimmon, walnut and Cornus mas fruit trees. In the summer months the villagers move to the upper alpine pastures, with their sheep and cows that graze in fields filled with many wild flowers. The Monastery of İşhan
The monastery of Işhan is situated in the village of Işhan, in the province of Artvin. Only the magnificent church and the adjacent chapel have survived.
The earliest mention of the monastery is found in The Life of Grigol Khandza, a Georgian manuscript dating from the year 951, which is now kept in Jerusalem. In this manuscript it is stated that Saba, the nephew and follower of the priest Grigol Khanzda, founded a monastery on the site of an earlier church. The first church built by Nerses III (641-661) who found refuge in Işhan, had a tetraconch plan (a central dome with four apses radiating to the cardinal points) and was presumably damaged during the Arab invasions of the 7th century.
Five Georgian inscriptions within the church and on the southern façade indicate different restoration periods, from 917 until 1032. From the 12th to the end of the 14th century, large vestibules were added to the south, west and north facades.
The Monastery of Dört Kilise (Oktha Ecclesia)
The monastery of Dört Kilise is about 15 kilometres from Yusufeli. To find it follow the Çoruh Valley upstream in the direction of Ispir until you come to the village of Tekkale. From there it is only 7 kilometres to the monastery which is hidden high in the valley of a small tributary of the Çoruh. The monastic buildings are surrounded by lush fields of clover and fruit trees grown wild. It would be hard to imagine a more idyllic or secluded spot.
Dört Kilise was first mentioned in a manuscript dating back to 1031 in relation to the lives of St John and St Euthemios. According to this manuscript, the church was completed before 965, but there appears to have been a second phase of construction and embellishment during the reign of David Magistros. When Magistros died in 1001, and the principality of Tao-Klarjeti passed peacefully into Byzantine hands. In this respect, it is significant that an inscription on the eastern façade refers to this indefatigable builder as Curopalates, a Byzantine court title that was bestowed on him in 978 by the Emperor Basil II.
The main church is distinguished by its elegance and restraint, and apart from some damage to its exterior facing stones, is remarkably well-preserved. The exterior is decorated with blind-arcading in two registers, the arches of the lower arcades springing from pilasters and those of the upper arcades being carried on paired colonnettes. It has a simple, basilical plan consisting of a broad nave flanked by two narrower aisles, all of them roofed by barrel vaults. The nave, as is customary, rises considerably above the aisles. The church is 28.46 metres long, 22.07 metres wide and 22.07 metres high, dimensions that produce a very harmonious effect.
Hamamli (Dolishane Church) Monastery
The church in the village of Hammam Dolishane 10 Century are known to have been built. In the southern part of the most popular part of the sundial.
The Monastery of Öşk (Öşkvank)
During the Middle Ages, the valleys watered by the Çoruh River and its tributaries formed part of the Georgian principality of Tao-Klarjeti. From the beginning of the 9th until the first quarter of the 11th century, independent feudal principalities similar to the city states of Italy were dominant in the region whose rulers supported the foundation of monasteries financially as well as by granting land. These monasteries soon became vibrant centres of culture, art and learning.
The monastery of Öşk is in the village of Çamlıyamaç in the province of Erzurum, which is within the boundaries of the medieval lower Tao. A church, a refectory, a scriptorium where the manuscripts used to be copied and kept and the remains of three chapels have come down to us.
According to numerous inscriptions, the church was constructed between the years 963-973 and was dedicated to St. John the Baptist and donated by the Bagratid brothers, sons of the Georgian Curopalate Adernese, King David (reigned 961-1001) and Prince Bagrat († 966).
During the time when the region was under the reign of the Byzantine Emperors, the dome of the church was repaired by the Emperors Basil II († 1025) and Constantine VIII († 1028).
In the 11th century, the Monastery of Öşk was one of the most important bishoprics in the region and a center of culture especially famous for its manuscripts. It preserved its importance until the end of the 15th century. At the end of the 19th century, the church was converted into a mosque and functioned as a place of worship until 1980. In 1985 the Ministry of Culture designated it as a monument to be protected and preserved and included it on the national heritage list.