Thursday, June 05, 2008


During some of our time off, we went to visit one of the most fascinating sites in the entire region – the abandoned cave-city of Vardzia.

Originally dug inside a mountain near Aspindza, it was founded by Queen Tamar in 1185 as a place of protection from the Mongols.

The monastery – which consisted of over six thousand apartments in a thirteen story complex that included a church, throne room, and an irrigation system that watered terraced farmlands – was exposed by an earthquake in 1283.

Although about 60-70% of the complex was destroyed by the quake, the remaining structure was used for another three hundred years - until it was raided by Persians in 1551.

Today, it is a tourist attraction attended by a small group of monks, and is definitely worth a visit.

The exposed parts of Vardzia - previously in the middle of a mountain - have had steps and handrails added for safety

Wandering around the interior tunnels was a fascinating experience that left us wondering how the intricate series of overlapping passageways was constructed with only rudimentary hand-tools more than 800 years ago.

Many of the chambers had frescos on the walls and ceilings - some depicting the saints of orthodox Christianity

We spent hours wandering through the passageways, marveling how cleverly they were designed.

At some points, there were holes in the ceilings - only later did we come across side passageways with holes in the floor, through which the inhabitants could have attacked invaders who were following them!

We were also shown a chamber with a pool of crystal clear, cool water that we were told remained at a constant level and temperature. Somehow, it sits right at the natural water-table of the mountain an manages to remain full - even though it's carved into the solid stone floor!

Unfortunately, the photos of those amazing features of Vardzia didn't turn out too well because of the lack of light and the confined spaces - you'll just have to take my word for it, or go visit Vardzia yourself!


amyn said...

Wow! These are amazing! Georgia is such a fascinating place with wonderful pieces of history.

Bryan Vandergriff said...

Thanks for all the information. I live in Portland (Oregon, that is) and a group to which I belong will be hosting some visitors from Samtskhe-Javakheti. I am trying to learn more about the area before meeting some of them.