The bell tower stands left to the entrance. It is clearly seen that it was built in bricks, as well as the other small buildings that half hide its basement. We did not stay long enough to hear the bells ringing. I was impressed by Dzveli Shuamta but rather disappointed by Akhali Shuamta that I found unfriendly.
Though we were not more than 100 meters away, the church could not be seen clearly. It was built in the XVIth century by Tinatin Gurieli, the wife of King Levan II and has some wall paintings preserved from that period. It was later restored by Irakli II. I have found that it was built in bricks and designed in the form of a cross. I have also found that it had a dome which apparently is not the case : it has a central round tower, where there should be a dome. Has it been built later, I don’t know.
The final enclosure has an entrance with other warning signs (photos 1 and 2); It says “The guests of the Monastery are requested to wait at the gate for the sister of the Monastery, who will lead them into the Church”, and another “Ring the bell” (I hope this is not the bell from the bell tower !)
Photo 3 shows another poster addressed to guests.
We did not ring the bell and skipped the visit of the Monastery.
Once passed the outer entrance, an wide ally framed by tall pine trees lead to a second entrance, in the inner enclosure. On the right, in the haze, a church with a round tower can be seen and on the left, the clock tower, together with several smaller buildings, most probably designed for housing.
Akhali Shuamta is closer to Telavi but stands also in the forest. Unlike Dzveli Shuamta, it is locked as it is still a living monastery.
The outer enclosure seems to have been built recently. It is all built in cobblestones but here the cobblestones are arranged to be seen.
On the entrance a large warning (last photo) tells that men should wear neither shorts nor leotards and that women should wear neither shorts nor trousers nor skirts nor dress !! Does that mean that those wearing one of those items should take it off and that’s all ?
The smallest dome church is no different from the basilica and the larger dome church: the inside is bare, white washed and black stained. The visit of Dzveli Shuamta is a must because of the setting of the churches in a small clearing in the middle of a forest wilderness, not for the inside
Same as the basilica, the interior of the dome church is white washed and stained with candle black. The apse has no columns, unlike the basilica. All three churches are built with cobblestones but only in this one can the be seen: on the others, the cobble stone are coated and completely hidden. The walls are made of cobblestones and only the angles are made of freestone
The basilica and the dome church are very close, side by side : there is less than 2 meters between them.
Photo 1 was taken from the basilica towards the dome church (southwards view)
Photo 2 was taken the other way, from the dome church towards the basilica (northwards view)
Photo 3 was taken the same way but from the north wall (southwards view)
The inside of Dzveli Shuamta is white washed and there are no paintings on the walls. The walls are dotted with black produced by the combustion of wax candles and by wax that has flowed from the melting candles.
The apse is sustained by three columns (photos 1 and 2)
On arrival, one sees only two churches and it is difficult to see the three churches altogether and how they are set.
On photo 1, I have made a montage that shows the three churches : from left to right,
- the apse of the first basilica (V-VIth century),
- the apse of the second church (VI-VIIth), a domed church same as Jvari Church in Mtskheta but of a smaller size
- the narthex of the last one (VIIth-VIIIth), also a dome church on a cross design but the smallest of the three.
Photo 2 is a drawing that shows how there are set. The entrance into the basilica is on the side and the entrance into the second church is from the basilica and hence equally by the side.Photo 3 shows the apse of basilica on the left, the apse of the dome church on the right (photo used for the montage of the main picture).
Photo 4 shows on the left the apse of the larger dome church and on the right the narthex of the smaller dome church (photo used for the montage of the main picture).
Photo 5 shows on the right the side of the main dome church and a part of the apse of the smaller.
The word "Deciduous" means "trees with leaves falling off or out at a certain season". This is why in April, all trees had pale green leaves just coming out. The type of deciduous forest found in many part of Georgia is named Colchian forest. It is characterized by a variety of trees but here around Shuamta monastery, I noticed mostly Black Alder (Alnus glutinosa), hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) and Oriental Beech (Fagus orientalis). There might be also Sweet Chestnut (Castanea sativa), but I did not found any.
Colchian forests have a high rainfall and small plants are growing under the shelter of the trees. As the season was early, I found only (photo 2) a carpet of Cardamine pratensis (wild Lady's Smock) but later there should be primroses (Primula spp) and violets (Viola spp)
In Greece, each monastery makes its own wine, kept in amphorae. Though there are no monks anymore in Dzveli Shuamta, empty amphorae are still leaning on the ground close to the churches. Though, as Dzveli Shuamta is surrounded by forest, I wonder where they could possibly grow vine.
All of a sudden a pale sun pierced through the thin haze, just when arrived a full makrushka load of Greek worshipers that we had already seen in Ikalto. That brought some color to the sight and the landscape was not a fairy tale décor anymore!
After the grid, a narrow meadow surrounded on both sides by the forest leads after 200 meters to the buildings of the monastery. There are three churches but at first only two show in the haze (photo 1).
Photo 2 and 3 show the church on the right.
On arrival at Dzveli Shuamta (old Shuamta) monastery, the hazy forest makes the landscape unreal and looking almost like a fairy tale décor. Behind the grid, are we going to find the Sleeping Beauty’s castle or Bluebeard’s mansion?