Vardzia Cave City
One of the true hidden treasures of Georgia lies in the south of the country near the town of Aspindza – the underground fortress and monastery complex of Vardzia. Carved precariously from a sheer rock face, hundreds of interconnected rooms emerge and descend into the rock, creating an ancient labyrinth. The complex began construction in the 12th century under the rule of Queen Tamar, and proved valuable as a safe haven from attacks by the Mongols. The result was an astonishing 13-tier complex of over 600 cave rooms. Many of the rooms contained detailed frescoes and paintings, still seen today.
However, a century later in 1283 an entirely different enemy in the form of an earthquake left most of the city uninhabitable – although some persisted living there until the 16th century. Today, Vardzia is a symbol of the golden period of Georgian history, especially that of Queen Tamar who helped propel a cultural renaissance of the nation. Wandering the stone rooms and imagining life those many years ago is a haunting reminder of the extremes mankind has taken to survive.
In the south region of Georgia, near the town of Aspindza. Most people reach the site from Akhaltsikhe, the largest nearby town.
The caves were first carved in the 12th century A.D., and continued to grow over the next few hundred years until its abandonement in the 16th century.
First constructed as ordered by Queen Tamar and later used as protection from attacks by the Mongols. The site continued to be used for hundreds of years as a monastery.
The caves of Vardzia are becoming one of the more popular, off-beat destinations in Georgia. An entrance fee of 15 GEL is collected.
Starting from Akhaltsikhe, we reached the cave city by a local van departing daily. Actually seeing the sheer rock face littered with caves was a stunning sight, but nothing compared to walking amongst them. I felt like an intrepid explorer stumbling upon the ancient site's secrets for the first time. The air was still and damp, murmurs echoing off the carved rock walls. Turning each corner presented new surprises - intricate wall carvings, remains of frescoes and delicate archways. I have been fortunate to explore some of earth's great cave cities - such as Derinkuyu, Khndzoresk, and Buddhist caves in Xinjiang - and Vardzia is worthy of the best, a wonder of human ingenuity.
The site is on the UNESCO tentative list for World Heritage Site and has an entrance fee of 15 GEL as of 2023