Vardzia is a spectacular cave monastery complex located in the southern part of Georgia, near the border with Turkey. It is located about 270 km from Tbilisi and 240 km from Kutaisi. The complex dates back to the 12th century and was built by Queen Tamar as a refuge for monks during the Mongol invasions.
Legend has it that the construction of Vardzia began after Queen Tamar had a dream in which she saw a falcon flying over a rocky cliff. The falcon then transformed into a woman who told her to build a city in that exact spot, as it would be a safe haven for her people. Following the dream, the queen ordered the construction of the complex, which took over twenty-five years to complete.
The complex consists of hundreds of rooms carved into the rock face, including living quarters, chapels, dining halls, wine cellars, and even a pharmacy. The most impressive feature of Vardzia is the Church of the Dormition, which is built into the rock and has beautiful frescoes and intricate carvings. Visitors can also see the remains of the royal palace, which was destroyed during an earthquake in the 13th century.
Other interesting facts about Vardzia include that the complex is home to a natural spring with mineral water believed to have healing properties. Additionally, the monastery played an important role in Georgian history and was once a thriving cultural and educational center.
Today, Vardzia is a popular tourist attraction and a must-see destination for anyone visiting Georgia. Visitors can explore the caves, take in the stunning views of the surrounding landscape, and learn about the fascinating history and legends associated with this unique complex.
Things to see
- Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Its construction was accompanied by Queen Tamara. In front of it there are frescoes depicting George III and his daughter Tamara;
- The observation deck, which offers a magnificent view of the rock city and its surroundings;
- Inside the complex are preserved bakeries, libraries, dining rooms, cellars, and workshops.
You will walk through inclined tunnels with steps, learn about the ancient history of the monastery, and admire the mountain scenery and hills.
It is best to take a tour or audio guide. So it will be much more interesting and you will not get lost in a large number of caves.
There is also a spring on the territory from which you can drink. For the safety of visitors to the caves are equipped with fences. But with all the safety you need to be very careful and cautious, because sometimes you can come across worn stone stairs, unfenced shafts and holes in the floor.
Where to eat
Vardzia is a small town, and as such, it doesn't have a wide variety of cafes and restaurants. However, there are a few options available for visitors looking for coffee, bakery, and local cuisine.
One of the most popular places for coffee and bakery is the Vardzia Resort, which has a cafe that serves delicious pastries and coffee. Another good option is the Cafe Gallery, located in the town center, which offers a range of coffee drinks, tea, and pastries.
For local cuisine, the Vardzia Resort also has a restaurant that serves traditional Georgian dishes, such as khinkali, khachapuri, and shashlik.
Additionally, the Vardzia Cafe, located near the entrance of the cave city, serves a variety of Georgian dishes, including the famous Vardzia soup, which is made with lamb, potatoes, and vegetables.
Where to stay
Unfortunately, there are no hotels located directly in Vardzia as it is a historic site and not a town. However, there are several accommodation options nearby in the towns of Akhaltsikhe and Aspindza which are about 30-40 minutes away by car. Here are some recommended options:
- Rabati Hotel - located in the Rabati Castle complex in Akhaltsikhe, this hotel offers comfortable rooms with traditional Georgian decor and modern amenities.
- Hotel Lomsia - situated in the town of Akhaltsikhe, this hotel features spacious rooms, a restaurant serving Georgian cuisine, and a bar.
- Old Town Hotel - located in Aspindza, this hotel offers cozy rooms with beautiful mountain views, a restaurant, and a garden.
- Samtskhe Palace Hotel - situated in Akhaltsikhe, this hotel features elegant rooms with traditional Georgian decor, a restaurant, and a bar.
- Lali's Cave Hotel - located in Aspindza, this hotel offers unique cave-style rooms with modern amenities, a restaurant, and a terrace with stunning views of the surrounding mountains.
Keep in mind that Vardzia is a popular tourist destination, so it's best to book your accommodation in advance, especially during peak season.
Tips for visitors
- It is best to come here in the warm season. In winter, some of the caves are closed to the public;
- Wear comfortable, non-slip shoes;
- Clothing must be appropriate to the monastic site;
- Be sure to take water with you.
Tips for drivers
Here are some tips for drivers visiting Vardzia:
- The road leading to Vardzia is narrow and winding, so drivers should be extra cautious while driving.
- The last 10 kilometers of the road leading to Vardzia are unpaved, so it's recommended to have a 4WD vehicle.
- Be mindful of livestock and other animals on the road, particularly in rural areas.
- There may be some unexpected obstacles on the road, such as potholes or rocks, so it's important to drive slowly and remain alert.
- In winter months, the roads can be covered in snow and ice, so it's important to check the weather and road conditions before setting out on your journey.
- Be respectful of other drivers and always yield to oncoming traffic on narrow roads.
- It's recommended to fill up your gas tank before starting your journey to Vardzia, as there are limited gas stations along the way.
- There is a parking lot available at the entrance to Vardzia. Visitors can park their cars there and take a shuttle bus to the site. It is recommended to park only in designated areas and not to leave any valuable items in the car.
Overall, it's important to exercise caution and stay alert while driving in Vardzia and the surrounding areas.
Vardzia has seen a lot of pain and tragedy. Visiting this place, you can feel all the power and grandeur of the defensive fortress, which saved Georgian lands from enemy invasions. If you still have time, you can visit several interesting places in the vicinity of Vardzia:
- 20 minutes away by car is the huge Khertvisi Fortress on the top of the mountain, and nearby merge 2 rivers. The sight of extraordinary beauty;
- Hot springs, next to which there is a swimming pool and you can swim in the healing water;
- Another cave monastery Vanis Kwabebi. It is not as equipped as Vardzia, but interesting enough and not as crowded.