August 18, 2022
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Vardzia, Georgia (CNN) — From 3,000-year-old Uplistikhe to the sixth century David Gareja Monastery and the long-forgotten dwellings of Samshvilde, all of Georgia’s cave websites are awe-inspiring.

However none prevail fairly like Vardzia.

Scattered throughout the slopes of Erusheti, looming over a lush valley scored by the Kura river, Vardzia is Georgia’s most exceptional cave city.

In its day, the rock-hewed burg consisted of 6,000 rooms unfold throughout 19 ranges, together with 25 wine cellars, a nunnery, 15 chapels and an apothecary, all coming collectively to create a vibrant medieval city and monastery.

Secret escape tunnels, complicated useless ends

First conceived and constructed as a fort within the twelfth century below the reign of King Giorgi III, it was his daughter who actually introduced it to fruition. Beneath her watchful eye, an elaborate sequence of caves and chambers was chiseled deep into the stomach of Erusheti, amongst them a secret escape tunnel and a tangle of dead-end halls to confuse enemies.

Through the years, it rapidly developed from a modest fortress right into a sprawling monastery, cultural heart and offensive stronghold. Vardzia was house to some 2,000 monks, housed tens of hundreds of residents and, due to fertile terraces and a fancy irrigation system, was a self-sustaining city earlier than that was even a factor.

On the helm of all of it was Tamar the Nice, a legendary monarch so fierce and highly effective she earned the title of king — Tamar Mepe. Over her close to 30-year reign — twice married and a lady no much less — Georgia thrived politically and territorially, her rule stretching throughout the Better Caucasus and plunging south between modern-day Ganja and Erzurum.

Vardzia was as soon as house to 2,000 monks. Round 500 caves nonetheless stay.

Melanie Hamilton

Literature and artwork flourished like by no means earlier than, giving strategy to a few of Georgia’s biggest figures. Particularly, Shota Rustaveli, a medieval poet whose unrequited love for Tamar and epic poem “Knight within the Panther’s Pores and skin” solidified his place in historical past and earned him an avenue in nearly each city within the nation.

Nevertheless affluent, Vardzia’s success was comparatively brief lived. Within the yr 1283, an earthquake shook the area, wrecking greater than 70% of the city and shedding the outer wall in an avalanche of biblical proportions. Left and not using a stable protection, most of Vardzia packed up and left, forsaking solely the steadfast monks.

The monastic neighborhood held on for an additional 300 years till additional raids wiped them out.

Greater than 800 years after the reign of King Tamar, a handful of monks nonetheless are inclined to Vardzia, having returned after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Round 500 caves stay, together with an apothecary with its rigorously carved shelving intact and wine cellars with qvevris (historic wine making vessels) nonetheless embedded under as if no time has handed in any respect.

Even additional into the mountain are the labyrinth of untouched tunnels — some greater than 600-feet lengthy — connecting all of it collectively in an historic internet.

A former eating corridor inside Vardzia.

Melanie Hamitlon

Even the time-worn eating corridor with its stone sculpted benches and fireplace for baking prevail.

Essentially the most distinctive construction you’ll come throughout is the huge bell tower jutting out from the highest of a rock shelf. It retains most of its authentic glory, although you’ll discover one crucial lacking piece that was taken throughout a Mongol raid — the bell.

Most spectacular is the Church of the Dormition with its double-arched, bell hung portico impossibly carved into the mountain face. Inside are spectacularly weathered frescoes together with one among simply 4 in existence of King Tamar.

Guests will wish to go on a hunt for the Tears of Queen Tamar, a pure spring hidden deep inside the tunnels the place you’ll discover a pool seemingly full of water pouring — or crying — from the rocks above it.

Past Vardzia

The environment have rather a lot on provide too. Reverse Vardzia is the Vardzia Cavetown Viewpoint. Because the title suggests, it’s a wonderful cease off to take all of it in from afar.

Then, there’s the lesser identified Vanis Kvabebi (Vani Caves) a stone carved monastery simply 10 minutes’ drive from Vardzia.

Predating the location by a couple of hundred years, Vanis Kvabebi is sort of as spectacular as Vardzia itself. Keen climbers can scale the ruins by means of a sequence of wood ladders that result in a tiny white domed church, and revel in sweeping views of the valley.

Not removed from Vanis Kvabebi is Tmogvi Fortress. Teetering excessive above the river, it’s a large sprawl of ruins made up of a protracted forgotten citadel, tarnished frescoes and crumbling towers.

En route again to Tbilisi, you’ll come to a forked highway marked by Khertvisi Fortress — a medieval citadel outstretched atop a rocky outcrop. A flip proper will take you in direction of Armenia and deeper into Samtskhe-Javakheti.

Khertvisi Fortress is a medieval citadel outstretched atop a rocky outcrop.

Melanie Hamilton

Vardzia is located in Samtskhe-Javakheti, a area in southern Georgia flanked by Turkey and Armenia with a vibrant tapestry of tradition, panorama and delicacies. Within the northern half of the area, you’ll discover Borjomi — a densely forested spa city identified for its heal-all springs and bottled mineral water that treatment even the worst hangovers, based on native legend.

After which there’s Akhaltsikhe, a quiet little city dominated by Rabati Citadel, a medieval fortress and image of variety topped with a mosque, a synagogue and an orthodox church.

Tucked away within the southeastern nook of the area you’ll discover Paravani Lake. The biggest lake in Georgia, it’s surrounded by volcanic mountains, and wild, windswept terrain. On its southern shores sits Poka, a hamlet house to St. Nino Nunnery, a humble convent intently tied to the legend of St. Nino, a lady who introduced Christianity to Georgia making it the second nation on the earth to transform after neighboring Armenia.

On the grounds you’ll additionally discover a small store run by the nuns who put together artisanal sweets, conventional cheeses and even beer made in qvevri.

The area is formed as a lot by its culinary traditions as it’s cultural landmarks. Because of the affect of a number of cultures over the centuries, Samtskhe-Javakheti affords a complete gamut of scrumptious meals.

Excessive within the hills rolling out from Akhaltsikhe lies Andriatsminda, a tiny village the place a couple of native households have preserved the laborious custom of tenili, a cheese native to the area identified for its angel hair texture.

Regarded as left over from the presence of French clergymen within the area, you’ll additionally discover lokokina (snails) meant to be loved as a juicy filling for khinkali (dumplings), or plated escargot fashion.

Different delights embrace apokhti khinkali made with dried meats comparable to goose, Meskhuri shoti (Meskhetian bread) and longtime favourite of the area tatarberaki — delicate squares of boiled dough smothered in a wealthy sauce of garlic, onion, butter and yogurt.

Getting there

Only a smidge over 4 hours from Tbilisi, a drive by means of the dense woods of Borjomi and fortress-gilded Akhalstikhe will land you in Vardzia.

Go for one of many many keen drivers perched on Freedom Sq., or get behind the wheel with a rental. Whereas there are many drivers blissful to make a day journey, the world is greatest explored over a few nights to be able to actually soak all of it in.

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