Nestled in the rugged terrain of Georgia lies a breathtaking cave city that has enchanted visitors for centuries – Vardzia. An architectural marvel of the 12th century, this ancient city was fortified by King Giorgi III to protect his kingdom against the Mongol invasion. However, his daughter, Queen Tamar, transformed this fortress into a holy city that would become a spiritual beacon of Eastern Christendom. The cave monastery, established by Queen Tamar, grew and expanded into a labyrinthine complex of over 400 rooms, 13 churches, 25 wine cellars, and secret tunnels still being discovered today. Within the walls of this holy city, close to 2000 monks lived and prayed, creating a vibrant and bustling community that was the pride of Georgia. Today, Vardzia remains a cultural symbol and a spectacular natural wonder, a testament to the ingenuity and creativity of the people who built it.
The inhabitants of Vardzia lived in rock-hewn dwellings that ranged over 13 floors, a scale that was almost impossible to imagine during that time. Unfortunately, a significant earthquake in 1283 shook away the outer walls of many caves, which marked the beginning of the cave city's long decline. In 1551, the Persians defeated the Georgians in a battle in the caves themselves, resulting in the looting of Vardzia. However, since the end of Soviet rule, Vardzia has become a working monastery again, and monks now inhabit some caves. To protect their privacy, these caves are cordoned off.
If you are planning to visit the historical site of Vardzia, obtaining a guide from the ticket office is advisable to make the most of your experience. The guides have access to specific passages and caves visitors need help entering. Although it's worth noting that these guides may need to be fluent in English, their knowledge of the site's history and architecture will make up for it. You can explore the complex thoroughly and learn about its fascinating past with their assistance.
Nestled within a mesmerizing cave complex lies the Church of the Assumption. At the heart of the complex, the church boasts a bell-hung entrance enclosed by two beautiful arches. While the exterior facade of the church may have vanished, the interior is still a sight to behold. The church houses breathtaking frescoes that date back to its construction period from 1184 to 1186. The frescoes depict numerous scenes from the New Testament, along with a portrait of Giorgi III and Tamar before she got married, located on the north wall. Women must wear long skirts and a head covering to enter the church, while men must wear long trousers. If you venture to the left of the church's entrance, you'll find a long tunnel that stretches approximately 150m. The tunnel climbs a staircase carved into the rock and emerges above the church. Although it may be a bit claustrophobic, the journey through the tunnel is also quite thrilling. Despite the size of the complex, getting lost is unlikely. Once you've explored the various levels, you'll be led back down the hillside along a large loop, offering breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape.