Oshki Monastery’s History, Significance, and Current Challenges

Oshki was an important monastic settlement in medieval times. Its architecture, its embellishment, books copied and produced here, all are part of the story of the powerful Georgian King David III Bagrationi. Architectural ideas realized at Oshki were transferred to Mount Athos shortly afterward by the same donors, and soon to the rest of the Georgian kingdom.

Oshki is a grand building with a dome resting on four massive pillars. In length it is 43 meters in width, and between 28 and 36 meters high. It is the largest church of its time and most impressive in the region.

According the inscriptions on the walls, Oshki was founded on the day of the Annunciation in 963 and construction lasted for 10 years; the donors were David and his brother Bagrat of the Bagrationi royal family. Another inscription over the south entrance gives the name of the supervisor of the construction, Grigol, and the number of laborers, 150, as well as a detailed account of the yearly expenses: 20,000 drama, 5,000 pisos of wine, 250 grivi grain, 50 liters of iron, and 30 oxen and 30 mules transporting stone.

Oshki is built in stone and its façades are richly decorated with carvings and figural reliefs. Thanks to a very strong construction system and a strong mortar, the building has stood in its original form for more than a thousand years.

Oshki was abandoned in the seventeenth century when Georgian Orthodox monasteries of the region closed. It was again used for religious purposes for a while during the nineteenth centeury, when the Muslim population converted it into a mosque. Since Oshki was too big, only the modest space of the south transept was used. Walls were whitewashed, which is how the mural depicting the marriage of a Georgian prince, later King Bagrat IV, and the Byzantine Princess Helena at the Cathedral of Bana survived.

Oshki, on the list of cultural heritage monuments of Turkey, is located in the middle of a village and visited by hundreds of Tourists every year, but nevertheless has remained ignored and lacking in care. In such circumstances, the loss of valuable pieces was inevitable and some original sculptures have gone missing within the last ten years. Moreover, the structure of the domed church has never been restored and is in urgent need of consolidation.

After Oshki was included on the 2012 World Monuments Watch, the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism announced a tender to prepare the restoration project. Anfora Mimarlik Restorasyon is in charge of this task. The team has measured all structures of the complex, which include the large church, two small chapels, and the huge ruins of the monastic buildings. The next step will be the tender for the restoration works.

For the past few years Oshki has been number one on the list of potential shared cultural heritage conservation projects being negotiated between Turkey and Georgia. It is my hope that the complexity and uniqueness of Oshki will be taken into a consideration and that work will take place step by step in good cooperation between Turkish, Georgian, and WMF experts.

Meanwhile, as a Watch site nominee, a Watch Day at Oshki is in our plans. Such events are designed for local youth in order to increase their awareness and understanding of their heritage.

My hope is that this day will be a successful start of cooperation with the local authorities and the members of the community.