Georgia is a country of stone and mountains, the sun and the sea, rich in historical and natural monuments, which causes an irresistible interest of everyone who has ever visited this beautiful hospitable land. Today we want to dedicate a separate topic to one of the most memorable and exciting attractions in Georgia. We’ll talk about the mysterious cave towns, visiting which you will discover Georgia anew, learn a lot of interesting and exciting on the history of their origin, will be able to wander through the mysterious, ancient caves and to fully enjoy the enchanting spirit of antiquity! To those who wish to undertake an unforgettable trip we offer our educational Tour “Cave towns of Georgia.“
Cave towns of Georgia: Vardzia
The cave complex of Vardzia, the Georgian jewel of medieval architecture, is one of the most outstanding sights of Georgia. This unique cave city, carved into the steep wall of the mountain Erusheti at an altitude of 1300 meters, is located in Aspindza, in Javakheti, about 70 km south of the town of Borjomi. In the Middle Ages, the territory of Samtskhe-Javakheti used to serve as a barrier that separated the country from the Muslim world. That is why this strategically important place was selected for the construction of the fortified city. George III who ruled from 1156 -1184, decided to build a fortress city, which stretched for almost 1 km along the banks of the Kura River.
George III was unable to complete the construction of the cave complex of Vardzia. Its construction was completed during the reign of his daughter Queen of All Georgia Tamar. According to legend, the town’s name was derived from ‘ak var, Dzia’ or in Georgian ‘I’m here, Uncle, “- Tamar cried when she got lost in the countless labyrinths of caves and called her uncle for help. During the reign of Tamar, the importance of the cave city of Vardzia had significantly increased and reached the surprising prosperity.
Historians tell us of the richness and luxury in which Queen Tamar kept the caves. Before the earthquake, Vardzia served as the main seminary throughout the southwest Georgia. It was a home to more than 2,000 monks who lived in numerous cells, carved into the rocks. In total, the cave town of Vardzia was comprised of 3 000 rooms in 13 storeys that served as cells, living spaces, stables, treasuries, libraries, shops and even pharmacies. Special sites called Marani were allocated to the chief Georgian beverage. In Marani, the monks used to store and old wine in special jars. The floors were connected to each other by secret passages and holes made in the ceilings with wooden ladders attached to them. From 6000 caves after earthquakes and numerous enemy attacks have only survived 600-700.
The so-called «Tamar’s Chamber» is located in the western part of the complex. According to legend, Queen Tamar had 366 rooms in Vardzia, so that the enemies could not guess the exact location of her bedroom. Cave-monastery complex of Vardzia is mostly famous by ancient wall frescoes, miniatures, and paintings of the main church. Images of King George III and Queen Tamar are at the Assumption Cathedral built in 1180’s.
Nowadays 5 monks live in Vardzia who act as guides, but they do not speak English, and simply help visitors do not get lost in the labyrinth of caves.
How to get to Vardzia: Since Vardzia is located far from Tbilisi, be prepared to spend several hours on the road. Borjomi and Bakuriani are most often used as a starting point for Vardzia due to the close proximity. Vardzia is located near the town of Akhaltsikhe (70 km), a taxi from the bus station in Akhaltsikhe will cost 60 GEL for round trip including the wait time (22-23 USD). Minibus (van) will cost much less: only 4 GEL for one direction (1.5 USD), but not it runs only 3 times per day (at 10:40 am, 13:20 in the afternoon, and returns back at 15.00 pm).
|Ticket Price: 3 GEL (1 USD / 1 EUR)
Opening hours:10:00 – 18:00, Tuesday-Sunday (Monday day off)
Cave towns of Georgia: Uplistsikhe
Uplistsikhe (meaning Lord of the Fortress) was once a huge cave town situated 10 km east of Gori. Built between 6 BC and 1 AD Uplistsikhe had become one of the most important political and religious centers of the pre-Christian Kartli, with temples to pagan gods. After the Arabs conquered Tbilisi in 645 AD, Uplistsikhe became the residence of the Christian kings of Kartli and an important trading center on the main caravan route from Asia to Europe. Later Uplistsikhe was finally destroyed by the Mongols in 1240. Present Uplistsikhe comprises the territory of the inner city of 40 000 m2, which is preserved from the original huge settlement. Almost all the caves, and the findings here were discovered during excavations by archaeologists from the 1950s. Most of the excavated artifacts – beautiful gold, silver and bronze jewelries and magnificent fragments of ceramics and sculptures can be seen at the National Museum in Tbilisi.
At first glance, this ancient complex looks like something abstract and formless. It is striking that Uplistsikhe is the oldest settlement on the territory of Georgia, dating back to the Iron Age, II millennium BC. Today, the cave town of Uplistsikhe is included in the list of the World Cultural Heritage by UNESCO. The central area, which contains most of the rock structures, is connected to the lower area by a narrow tunnel. Most rock structures are without any decorative elements, larger structures contain elements of stone carving. In the upper part of the complex, there is a Christian stone basilica, dating back to the 10th century.
How to get to Uplistsikhe: You can make a trip to Uplistsikhe from Tbilisi and Gori. There are several transportation options from Tbilisi. The easiest way to get to Uplistsikhe is by shuttle bus (minibus). Minibus to Gori departs from Didube Metro station in Tbilisi, a one-way trip takes about 1.5 hours and costs 4 GEL (1.5 USD or 1,3 EUR). From Gori, you can take a taxi to Uplistsikhe, the round trip including the wait time should cost about 25 GEL (8.5 EUR, or about 9 USD). The cheapest option is to take a bus from Gori for 1 GEL (0,5 EUR / USD), however, it does not run on a regular basis, and you’ll have to walk about 1 km from the village to the cave town. At the entrance to the cave complex of Uplistsikhe, there are numerous guides offering their services and English-language tours.
|Ticket Price: 3 GEL (1 USD / 1 EUR)
Opening hours:10:00 – 17:00, Tuesday-Sunday (Monday day off)
Cave towns of Georgia: Davit Gareji
David Gareji monastery complex is of great historical value and has a special place among the numerous cultural monuments of the Georgia. According to tradition, the monastery of Gareji was founded in the 6th century by one of the thirteen Assyrian Fathers, St. David Gareji. David settled in a natural cave in the Gareji desert, where he founded the first monastery with the aim to spread Christianity in Georgia.
Even today, after so many centuries, David Gareji surprises visitors with its design and wall paintings of the high artistic level. The complex consists of 13 monasteries scattered on the hills of the semi-desert area on the borderline of Georgia and Azerbaijan.
The first thing that catches the eye is the numerous caves carved into the rugged rocks of the desert. The caves served as chapels, churches, and monks’ dwellings. In most of the cave chapels, you can see well-preserved frescoes, dating back to the 10th– 13th centuries. Not far from the David Gareji cave complex is situated another equally well-known and important cave monastery complex of Udabno. Cave chapels of Udabno are impressive. They are covered with ancient religious murals and frescoes.
How to get to Davit Gareji: David Gareji is located close enough to the capital city of Tbilisi – approximately 60-70 km, but there is no regular transport connecting the site to the city. The monastery can be reached in several ways: rent a car, buy a guided tour, which includes a shuttle or taxi. A round trip taxi ride would cost about 90-100 GEL (260-270 USD), which is quite expensive.
The most convenient way to get to the monastery of David Gareji is take a mini-bus, which departs from the Liberty Square. Just go to the Tourist Information stand, and they will help you. Tbilisi-Gareji Bus departs daily at 11 am, the trip costs 25 GEL per person (65-70 USD), and takes just over one hour.
Opening hours: No fixed timetable, but it is recommended to visit during the daytime, as the monastery is located on the border.