Exploring Vardzia, Georgia's mysterious rock-hewed cave city

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Vardzia, Georgia (CNN) — From 3,000-year-old Uplistikhe to the 6th period David Gareja Monastery and the long-forgotten dwellings of Samshvilde, each of Georgia's cave sites are awe-inspiring.

But nary prevail rather similar Vardzia.

Scattered crossed the slopes of Erusheti, looming implicit a lush vale scored by the Kura river, Vardzia is Georgia's astir singular cave city.

In its day, the rock-hewed burg consisted of 6,000 rooms dispersed crossed 19 levels, including 25 vino cellars, a nunnery, 15 chapels and an apothecary, each coming unneurotic to make a vibrant medieval metropolis and monastery.

Secret flight tunnels, confusing dormant ends

First conceived and constructed arsenic a fort successful the 12th period nether the reign of King Giorgi III, it was his girl who truly brought it to fruition. Under her watchful eye, an elaborate bid of caves and chambers was chiseled heavy into the belly of Erusheti, among them a concealed flight passageway and a tangle of dead-end halls to confuse enemies.

Over the years, it rapidly evolved from a humble fortress into a sprawling monastery, taste halfway and violative stronghold. Vardzia was location to immoderate 2,000 monks, housed tens of thousands of residents and, acknowledgment to fertile terraces and a analyzable irrigation system, was a self-sustaining metropolis earlier that was adjacent a thing.

At the helm of it each was Tamar the Great, a legendary monarch truthful fierce and almighty she earned the rubric of king -- Tamar Mepe. Over her adjacent 30-year reign -- doubly joined and a pistillate nary little -- Georgia thrived politically and territorially, her regularisation stretching crossed the Greater Caucasus and plunging southbound betwixt modern time Ganja and Erzurum.

Vardzia was erstwhile  location  to 2,000 monks. Around 500 caves inactive  remain.

Vardzia was erstwhile location to 2,000 monks. Around 500 caves inactive remain.

Melanie Hamilton

Literature and creation flourished similar ne'er before, giving mode to immoderate of Georgia's top figures. Namely, Shota Rustaveli, a medieval writer whose unrequited emotion for Tamar and epic poem "Knight successful the Panther's Skin" solidified his spot successful past and earned him an avenue successful conscionable astir each metropolis successful the country.

However prosperous, Vardzia's occurrence was comparatively abbreviated lived. In the twelvemonth 1283, an earthquake shook the region, wrecking much than 70% of the metropolis and shedding the outer partition successful an avalanche of biblical proportions. Left without a coagulated defense, astir of Vardzia packed up and left, leaving down lone the steadfast monks.

The monastic assemblage held connected for different 300 years until further raids wiped them out.

More than 800 years aft the reign of King Tamar, a fistful of monks inactive thin to Vardzia, having returned aft the illness of the Soviet Union.

Around 500 caves remain, including an apothecary with its cautiously carved shelving intact and vino cellars with qvevris (ancient vino making vessels) inactive embedded beneath arsenic if nary clip has passed astatine all.

Even further into the upland are the labyrinth of untouched tunnels -- immoderate much than 600-feet agelong -- connecting it each unneurotic successful an past web.

A erstwhile  eating  hallway  wrong  Vardzia.

A erstwhile eating hallway wrong Vardzia.

Melanie Hamitlon

Even the time-worn eating hallway with its chromatic sculpted benches and hearth for baking prevail.

The astir distinctive operation you'll travel crossed is the monolithic doorbell operation jutting retired from the apical of a stone shelf. It retains astir of its archetypal glory, though you'll announcement 1 precise important missing portion that was taken during a Mongol raid -- the bell.

Most awesome is the Church of the Dormition with its double-arched, doorbell hung portico impossibly carved into the upland face. Inside are spectacularly weathered frescoes including 1 of conscionable 4 successful beingness of King Tamar.

Visitors volition privation to spell connected a hunt for the Tears of Queen Tamar, a earthy outpouring hidden heavy wrong the tunnels wherever you'll find a excavation seemingly filled with h2o pouring -- oregon crying -- from the rocks supra it.

Beyond Vardzia

The surroundings person rather a batch connected connection too. Opposite Vardzia is the Vardzia Cavetown Viewpoint. As the sanction suggests, it's an fantabulous halt disconnected to instrumentality it each successful from afar.

Then, there's the lesser known Vanis Kvabebi (Vani Caves) a chromatic carved monastery conscionable 10 minutes' thrust from Vardzia.

Predating the tract by a fewer 100 years, Vanis Kvabebi is astir arsenic awesome arsenic Vardzia itself. Eager climbers tin standard the ruins done a bid of woody ladders that pb to a tiny achromatic domed church, and bask sweeping views of the valley.

Not acold from Vanis Kvabebi is Tmogvi Fortress. Teetering precocious supra the river, it's a monolithic sprawl of ruins made up of a agelong forgotten citadel, tarnished frescoes and crumbling towers.

En way backmost to Tbilisi, you'll travel to a forked roadworthy marked by Khertvisi Fortress -- a medieval castle outstretched atop a rocky outcrop. A crook close volition instrumentality you towards Armenia and deeper into Samtskhe-Javakheti.

Khertvisi Fortress is simply a medieval castle outstretched atop a rocky outcrop.

Khertvisi Fortress is simply a medieval castle outstretched atop a rocky outcrop.

Melanie Hamilton

Vardzia is situated successful Samtskhe-Javakheti, a portion successful confederate Georgia flanked by Turkey and Armenia with a vibrant tapestry of culture, scenery and cuisine. In the bluish fractional of the region, you'll find Borjomi -- a densely forested spa municipality known for its heal-all springs and bottled mineral h2o that remedy adjacent the worst hangovers, according to section legend.

And past there's Akhaltsikhe, a quiescent small metropolis dominated by Rabati Castle, a medieval fortress and awesome of diverseness crowned with a mosque, a synagogue and an orthodox church.

Tucked distant successful the southeastern country of the portion you'll find Paravani Lake. The largest water successful Georgia, it's surrounded by volcanic mountains, and wild, windswept terrain. On its confederate shores sits Poka, a hamlet location to St. Nino Nunnery, a humble convent intimately tied to the fable of St. Nino, a pistillate who brought Christianity to Georgia making it the 2nd federation successful the satellite to person aft neighboring Armenia.

On the grounds you'll besides find a tiny store tally by the nuns who hole artisanal chocolates, accepted cheeses and adjacent brew made successful qvevri.

The portion is shaped arsenic overmuch by its culinary traditions arsenic it is taste landmarks. Thanks to the power of respective cultures implicit the centuries, Samtskhe-Javakheti offers a full gamut of delicious food.

High successful the hills rolling retired from Akhaltsikhe lies Andriatsminda, a tiny colony wherever a fewer section families person preserved the laborious contented of tenili, a food autochthonal to the portion known for its angel hairsbreadth texture.

Thought to beryllium near implicit from the beingness of French priests successful the region, you'll besides find lokokina (snails) meant to beryllium enjoyed arsenic a juicy filling for khinkali (dumplings), oregon plated escargot style.

Other delights see apokhti khinkali made with dried meats specified arsenic goose, Meskhuri shoti (Meskhetian bread) and longtime favourite of the portion tatarberaki -- delicate squares of boiled dough smothered successful a affluent condiment of garlic, onion, food and yogurt.

Getting there

Just a smidge implicit 4 hours from Tbilisi, a thrust done the dense woods of Borjomi and fortress-gilded Akhalstikhe volition onshore you successful Vardzia.

Opt for 1 of the galore anxious drivers perched connected Freedom Square, oregon get down the instrumentality with a rental. While determination are plentifulness of drivers blessed to marque a time trip, the country is champion explored implicit a mates of nights truthful that you tin truly soak it each in.

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