We drove 60 kilometers from Akhaltsikhe to the fascinating cave city of Vardzia along the upper Mtkvari River, passing through narrow canyons into the wilderness of a beautiful green valley set between arid, rocky hillsides. The cave city of Vardzia (🎫 15 GEL, 🚐 2 GEL) is both a cultural symbol and a spectacular natural phenomenon with a special place in Georgian hearts. King Giorgi III built a fortification here in the 12th century. His daughter, Queen Tamar, established a cave monastery that grew into a holy city housing perhaps 2000 monks, renowned as a spiritual bastion of Christendom’s eastern frontier. Altogether there are over 400 rooms, 13 churches, and 25 wine cellars. Its inhabitants lived in rock-hewn dwellings ranging over 13 floors. A major earthquake in 1283 shook away the outer walls of many caves, and the cave city began its long decline. In 1551 the Georgians were defeated by the Persians in a battle in the caves, and Vardzia was looted. Since the end of Soviet rule, Vardzia has again become a working monastery, with some caves inhabited by monks.
Parking location – Vardzia: 41.378516N 43.287140E (🚻 – 24/7 at the ticket office)