The Cave City of Vardzia

Traveling to the mysterious country of Georgia is quite a rare opportunity as it is not frequently visited. The country has a lot to offer, and as a visitor, Georgia will easily surprise you through its local cuisine, incredible hospitality and passion for the arts. One of the country’s main attractions is the cave city of Vardzia, a cultural icon and a spiritual symbol that is very special to Georgians.

VardziaLocated in the southern region of Georgia, the city boasts more than 800 years of history. Under Queen Tamar’s orders, a monastery was first built in this area, until it grew out to be a holy city, which once housed about 2000 monks. The main reason for Vardzia’s magnificence is the complexes that are carved out of the rock and are seamlessly integrated to the natural landscape. These rock dwellings are divided into several floors, and their interiors are surprisingly well-preserved and having undergone some planning when they were made.

At the heart of the cave city is the Church of the Assumption, marked by its two porticos exhibiting the arch design. Despite the church’s facade being absent, its interior is beautiful, decorated by various frescoes featuring scenes from New Testament. There’s a passage to the left of the church’s door which gives access to a tunnel that stretches to 150 meters. Once you climb the steps attached to the tunnel, they will lead you to the top of the church.

Vardzia-escape-tunnelExploring the Vardzia complex is quite fun. You will find yourself going through hidden stairways and tunnels that connect rooms. In some caves, the steps are not stable so you should take your time and be careful in climbing. If you walk over to the western section of the church you will see a 10th century cave village called Ananuri. In this area, there are 40 cave groups with about 165 rooms and six other smaller churches. Towards the eastern side, there are 79 more cave groups that are composed of 244 rooms and six churches.

Most tourists reach Vardzia by driving from the nearest towns like Borjomi and Akhaltsikhe. The ride is not quite smooth especially the last couple of kilometers, but once you arrive in the city; you will soon realize that the long trip is all worth it. There is a minimal entrance fee to permit access to the site. You also have the option to hire a guide at the ticket office. Unfortunately, none of them speak very good English but they can still show you the best and most fascinating caves in the area.

Expect to do a lot of walking and climbing while in Vardzia. You will need good pair of shoes because you will be walking around steep stairways and narrow paths. A flashlight will come very handy during your cave dwelling exploration, especially if you wish to go to the popular pitch black cave, which contains the water known as Tamar’s Tears. The temperature can become cold, so it’s highly advisable to bring an extra jacket or sweater. There are no stores, snack stalls or restaurants in the Vardzia area, so make sure to bring enough food and drink during your trip.

About Author:

Arie Boris has extensive travel industry experience, including business and sales development for commercial aviation, the International emergency assistance & travel insurance industry and a national association of travel agents. He was a contributing editor to several print and Internet travel publications, including Fieldings’ Worldwide Cruise Guide and was part of the start up team for CruiseCritic. He has written over 400 cruise ship reviews. Arie also produces and hosts Cruise Gourmet Voyages, a variety of fundraising & theme group cruises for various charitable and arts organizations. He has produced theme cruises for a variety of special interest groups including opera, comedy, spiritual retreats and fan clubs for TV shows like Dark Shadows and Dancing with the Stars!