Written by Tika Bujiashvili
The Adjarian highlands are rich in interesting and attractive sights. One of them is Skalta cathedral church in village Khinchauli, Khulo region. The route begins in small town Khulo, from where it goes in the direction of Batumi by Batumi-Akhaltsikhe highway. In about 8km you have to turn to the south in the Skhaltistskali Valley and in 10 km you come to Skhalta Monastery. (The route follows asphalted road).
The written sources on Skhalta are scarce, not inscriptions on temple’s frescoes tell us anything about the building of the church. A legend attributes the construction of the church to Queen Tamar. Modern studies date the church to the middle of the 13th century. At that time, the Skhalta valley was in possession of the noble family of Abuseridze. The distinguished frescoes of the church were painted during the 14th and 15th centuries.
Z. Chichinadze in his book describes what local people said about the building of Skalta church. “Once Queen Tamar passed the gorge and saw a Pear tree which had a wonderful shade. So the queen decided to have a rest under the tree. At night she dreamt of the tree. In the morning she ordered to build a church there. Soon the building of the church started. The pear tree was going to be cut down, but in vain. The cut three was growing during the night. One worker advised not to pull axes from cutting branches and the method worked. On that place, where the pear tree’s branches were (two poles), there is an income door of the church. And the place Skalta was named after the three. When people asked where the church was building, the answer was near the Pear tree – Mskhali in Georgian. So the place today is called (M)Skhalta.
There is another legend: When the Ottoman invaded the east of Adjara, Queen Tamar fled to the Khikhani castle. From there she went to Skhalta church to pray through the secret underground tunnel. When the enemy found the way and decided to seize her, Queen Tamar didn’t surrender and drank poison.
The complex consists of church, a small church, wine cellar and tombs. A wine cellar, which is near the road, away from the church, is a large rectangular building. Since middle ages, near a small church, there is a cemetery. The size and variety of the tombs proves that population of Skhalta was quiet numerous.
Skhalta is the only medieval church in Adjara that survived both the Ottoman and Soviet periods to become functional again in 1990 when it was consecrated as a male monastery of the Nativity of Mary. It currently serves as a seat of the Georgian Orthodox bishop of Skhalta. The interior of this beautiful church retains fragments of an original painting. During services the prayers are constantly accompanied by the sounds of the River Skhalta.