The Monastery of HAHO (HAHULI)

The monastery of Haho is in the village of Bağbaşı, in the province of Erzurum. The main church and two of the eight chapels within the circuit walls reaching at places to a height of 3 metres are situated on a fertile pasture on the left bank of the brook of Haho and are protected by a fortress located about 300 metres to the northeast of the monastery.

According to contemporary sources, the monastic church was built during 978-1001 by the Georgian Curopalate King David (reigned 961-1001) and was dedicated to the Mother of God. In a short time, the monastery became an important centre of culture and art. It is famous for the Hahuli Triptych with its enamel icon of the Mother of God, kept now at the National State Museum of Fine Arts in Tbilisi.

A manuscript copied at Haho dating from the year 1556 gives evidence that the monastery was still functioning during the 16th century. The monastic church was converted into a mosque after the region was conquered by the Ottomans. During the Russian occupation in the early 20th century, the church regained its original function only to be converted again into a mosque. In 1981, the Turkish Ministry of Culture registered Haho as a national cultural monument and the site is now protected.

The monastic church is a cruciform structure with the dimensions of 27×29 metres, excluding the later additions on the west, north and south façades. The only entrance to the church is from the south.

The dome covering the square central bay is about 25 metres high and rests in the east on the extensions of the apse’s wall and in the west on two free standing piers. The south and north-cross arms have similar layouts whereas the eastern cross-arm is enlarged by an apse flanked by two side chambers with single stories. The western cross-arm which is about twice the depth of the outer cross-arms is arranged as a three-naved basilica with two pairs of columns supporting round arches resting on cubic capitals. The interior is lit by 16 windows, eight of which are on the drum of the dome. During the 11th and 12th centuries, rooms were added to the north, east and south façades of the western cross-arm. When the church was converted to a mosque, a mihrab niche as well as a mimber were constructed on the southern wall of the south cross-arm. A wooden gallery for women was added to the north-cross arm and the entrance to the western annex as well as to the north were blocked.

There are remains of frescoes in the cupola and the apse. A jewelled cross on a dark blue background, interpreted as the “Ascension of the Cross” is depicted in the cupola, and below it there is the scene with a guardian angel behind a two-wheeled-chariot, drawn by four winged horses and driven by a standing figure thought to represent the “Vision of Zachariah” (6:1-6) from the Old Testament.

The façades of the church are constructed with large ashlar blocks. Except for the north façade, the spaces between the window openings and the blind arches above them are constructed with single blocks of stone painted in red and dark blue. This multi-coloured effect is enhanced by the dark red and grey glazed tiles on the conical roof of the cupola.

The drum is enlivened with a blind arcade with round arches springing from twin colonettes whose capitals are adorned with floral motives, except for the one depicting a scene with an eagle holding its prey in its claws. The blind arches of the window openings on the drum as well as those above the windows are richly adorned with geometric and floral patterns. On the twin window of the south-cross arm another eagle holding its prey in its claws is depicted in high relief.

The southern entrance is adorned with sculptural decoration in low relief, and partly covered by the porch attached some time later to its south. On the typanon four angels carry an even-armed cross, depicting the “Ascension of the Cross.” The eastern jamb, divided into four registers, displays “St Peter, the Guardian of the Door to Heaven,” below it, there is “Jonah and the Whale,” and two animals, a cock and a lion. On the western jamb of the door, in three registers, is a scene interpreted as the “Celestial Journey of Alexander the Great.” Under it, there is a griffin and a combat between a lion and a bull. The western capital of the door bears a scene of a lion attacking a deer.

The chapel to the south of the church is quite well-preserved. The single naved structure (exterior dimensions 7×4.7 metres) has a window to the east and an entrance to the west. On the typanon of the door, there is a cross surrounded with leaves that emerge from it, done in low relief. The eastern façade is richly decorated with two deep triangular niches flanking the window, emphasized by a second blind arch springing from engaged columns. The double story chapel with three apses to the north of the church has lost its vaulting system, and the crypt is filled with debris. Four of the other six chapels outside the circuit walls are located on the slope of the hill some 150 metres from the church, two on top of hills, one about 200 metres to the southeast, and the other about 1 kilometre to the west of the church. All of the six chapels are single naved, barrel-vaulted structures, moderate in size, and equal in dimensions. Since the chapels are raised on two-stepped podiums with masonry and layout similar to the main monastic church, they may be contemporary with the first period of construction of the church dedicated to the Mother of God.