Vardzia (Georgian: ვარძია) is a cave monastery site in southern Georgia, excavated from the slopes of the Erusheti Mountain on the left bank of the Mtkvari River, thirty kilometres from Aspindza. The main period of construction was the second half of the twelfth century. The caves stretch along the cliff for some five hundred metres and in up to nineteen tiers. The Church of the Dormition, dating to the 1180s during the golden age of Tamar and Rustaveli, has an important series of wall paintings. The site was largely abandoned after the Ottoman takeover in the sixteenth century.
Now part of a state heritage reserve, the extended area of Vardzia-Khertvisi has been submitted for future inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage List Soviet-era excavations have shown that the area of Vardzia was inhabited during the Bronze Age and indicated the reach of Trialeti culture. Cave settlements such as Uplistsikhe are known along the Mtkvari River from at least the fifth century BC, while rock cut architecture in the context of Georgian Christianity is known from Zedazeni and Garedzhi from the sixth century AD, and more locally from Vanis Kvabebi, Cholta and Margastani from the eighth century. Four distinct building phases have been identified at Vardzia: the first during the reign of Giorgi III (1156-1184), when the site was laid out and the first cave dwellings excavated; the second between his death and the marriage of his successor Tamar in 1186, when the Church of the Dormition was carved out and decorated; the third from that date until the Battle of Basian c.1203, during which time many more dwellings as well as the defences, water supply, and irrigation network were constructed;
while the fourth was a period of partial rebuilding after heavy damage in the earthquake of 1283. The greater Vardzia area includes also the early eleventh-century church at Zeda Vardzia and the tenth- to twelfth-century rock village and cave churches of Ananauri. The main lower site was carved from the cliff’s central stratum of tufaceous breccia at an elevation of thirteen hundred metres above sea level. It is divided into an eastern and a western part by the Church of the Dormition. In the eastern part of the complex are seventy-nine separate cave dwellings, in eight tiers and with a total of 242 rooms, including six chapels, “Tamar’s Room”, a meeting room, reception chamber, pharmacy, and twenty-five wine cellars; 185 wine jars sunk into the floor document the importance of viticulture to the monastic economy. In the western part, between the bell tower and the main church, are a further forty houses, in thirteen tiers and with a total of 165 rooms, including six chapels, a refectory with a bakery, other ovens for baking bread, and a forge. Beyond the bell tower the complex rises to nineteen tiers, with steps leading to a cemetery. Infrastructure includes access tunnels, water facilities, and provision for defence Since 1985 the site has formed part of the Vardzia Historical–Architectural Museum-Reserve, which includes forty-six architectural sites, twelve archaeological sites, and twenty-one sites of monumental art. In 1999 Vardzia-Khertvisi was submitted for inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage List as a Cultural Site in accordance with criteria ii, iii, iv, v, and vi. In their evaluation, advisory body ICOMOS cited Göreme in Cappadocia as the closest comparandum amongst cave monastery sites of international significance.
In 2007 Vardzia-Khertvisi was resubmitted as a mixed Cultural and Natural Site in accordance also with criterion vii.
From 2012, conservation of the wall paintings in the Church of the Dormition is to be carried out by the Courtauld Institute of Art in conjunction with the National Agency for Cultural Heritage Preservation of Georgia and Tbilisi State Academy of Arts
Akhaltsikhe (Georgian: ახალციხე, literally “new castle”; formerly known as Lomisa, Armenian: Ախալցխա, Turkish: Ahıska) is a small city in Georgia’s southwestern region (mkhare) of Samtskhe-Javakheti. It is situated on the both banks of a small river Potskhovi, which separates the city to the old city in the north and new in the south. The city is first mentioned in the chronicles in the 12th century. In the 12th–13th centuries it was the seat of the Akhaltsikhelis, dukes of Samtskhe, whose two most illustrious representatives were Shalva and Ivane Akhaltsikheli (of Akhaltsikhe)