the journey from akhaltsikhe to vardzia
the journey from akhaltsikhe to vardzia


IMG_0486 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. IMG_0393 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. IMG_7342 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 IMG_0532 Soviet-era excavations have shown that the area of Vardzia was inhabited during the Bronze Age and indicated the reach of Trialeti culture. IMG_0468 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. IMG_0547 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; IMG_0424 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; IMG_0480 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. IMG_0431 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. IMG_0490 It is divided into an eastern and a western part by the Church of the Dormition. IMG_0498 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. IMG_0492 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. IMG_0482 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 IMG_0435 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. IMG_0513 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 IMG_0562


IMG_7254 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. IMG_7270The 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) IMG_7266

marshrutka trip Akhaltsikhe to vardzia

IMG_0625 Vardzia is accessible by bus and marshrutka from Akhaltsikhe   IMG_7297 IMG_0631 IMG_0635 text taken from wikipedia

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Beautiful photos of the unusual cave monastery.

  2. This place is really special… so hard to imagine, how people would have carved on hard rock with primitive tools…

    There are similar cave temples in India in Maharashtra, Kanheri caves.

    Thank you so much for sharing these beautiful images and notes 🙂

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