Vardzia is a spectacular cave monastery in southern Georgia, excavated from the slopes of the Erushe-ti Mountain on the left bank of the Mtkvari River in Samtskhe-Javakheti region.The 60km drive into the wilderness from Akhaltsikhe to this  cave city  is a dramatic road experience along a route follow-ing the upper Mtkvari River, passing through narrow canyons and then heading south at Aspindza along a picturesque valley nestled between rocky hillsides.

The main period of construction of Vardzia occurred in the late XII century. The caves stretch along the cliff for some 500 meters and in up to nineteen tiers. In the late 1100s, the medieval kingdom of Georgia was fighting to resist the onslaught of the Mongol hordes, and King Tamar (one of the most famous fe-male figures in Georgian history, who was crowned as a king, not queen) ordered the construction of an underground sanctuary. Thirteen levels were constructed with a church at the center. Natural caves were enlarged to contain over 6,000 dwelling places for monks. The only way to get to this underground city was through well-hidden tunnels.

The Church of the Dormition, dating to the 1180s- the golden age of King Tamar, is famous for its beautiful frescoes.  The site was largely abandoned after the Ottoman takeover in the XVI century. Now part of a state heritage reserve, the extended area of Vard-zia-Khertvisi has been submitted for future inscrip-tion on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Since Vardzia is located far from Tbilisi, be prepared to spend a few hours on the road. Another option is to see Vardzia in a day trip from Akhaltsikhe, Borjomi or Bakuriani; but the Vardzia area is a magical one and an overnight or longer  stay is recommended.

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