The Church of St. Nicholas
Sequestered on a hillside above the Dzama River valley, this cru-ciform domed Church dates to the beginning of the 13th century. Similar in design to the Church of Timotes-Ubani, the Church of St. Nicholas is also made of brick, a technique not common in Georgia at the time. With the exception of the two niches on the east facade and the small architectural models of churches that adorn the tops of the gables, the exterior is devoid of decoration.
The western narthex was added in the 14th century. Access is pro-vided by three tall arches, above which is a gallery. Annexes were also built in the north and south. Of greatest interest is the superb fresco cycle that adorns the interior and dates to the time of construction. These frescoes are among the very best that have survived from this epoch. Expressive, elegant, and monumental, the images are set against an intense and unifying blue background.
The cross in the dome of the cupola is a treatment unique to Georgia. Between the twelve windows in the drum are prophets and saints, with the four Evangelists within the medallions of the pendentives. In the eastern apse is the traditional iconographic treatment of the Virgin and Child surrounded by angels.
In the north and south cross-arms are scenes from the life of Jesus. The arrangement of the pictorial registers is unusual. The expected strict ordering of zones is interrupted by the oversized figure of the seated angel. This tendency arose at the end of the 12th century and signalled a greater degree of fluency and freedom in pictorial representation. The angel, separated by the windows from the scene of the middle zone, actually belongs to the depiction of the Mourning at the Grave of Christ. (This angel is much revered throughout Georgia; a recently painted icon of this angel now adorns a pillar in Sveti-tskhoveli in Mtskheta).
Above the middle zone is the Entry into Jerusalem. The first register contains portraits of rulers of Georgia: King Giorgi III, Queen Tamara, and her son Giorgi IV Lasha. Across from them along the first register of the south wall is the patron of this church, Anton Gnohistavisdze, head of Christian ideology and history under Queen Tamara. He is seen here presenting a model of the church to St. Nicholas, With our knowledge of these historical personages, these frescoes have been dated to the years 1207-1213.
In the western narthex are frescoes from the 14th century, including what is thought to be a portrait of Zaza Panaskerteli made by his son.
Also in the grounds of the monastery precincts are two small hall churches and the remains of the monastery buildings. South of the grounds, a path leads to a wonderful picnic area, in the forest by a glistening stream.