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Georgia

Exploring one of the biggest cave towns in Georgia

Despite the fact that Georgia is a relatively small country, it is quite diverse offering unique sites to its visitors. Famous for breathtaking nature, historical sights, medieval defense towers, and tasty cuisine, the country has something to offer to any type of the traveler. If some of you are keen on discovering unusual sites, then visiting caves in Georgia should be on your bucket list. There are several cave towns in Georgia from which Vardzia is the biggest, majestic, and simply amazing.

Vardzia

A small history lesson about Vardzia caves

In the late 1100s, Georgia was withstanding the aggression of the Mongols, one of the most destructive powers Europe has seen. Queen Tamar, or King Tamar as she is known in Georgia, ordered the creation of this underground shrine in 1185. Dug on the side of the Erusheti Mountain, it was quite a hard job for many workers. However, the legend has it that King Tamar distributed a pick-ax to the workers which had gold in the middle and promised that once done, the gold will be theirs.

The whole area was designed in a way that it would serve as a functioning city during the invasion. The complex has 13 stores and contains around 6,000 rooms, a throne room, wine cellars, church and a bell tower. Additionally, there are terraces designated for cultivation with obscure irrigation systems.

It’s believed that the only access to this sanctuary was through a secret tunnel leading from Mtkvari River. It must be noted that some of the rooms of Vardzia lead nowhere in order to disorientate the enemy.

Unfortunately, the glorious days of Vardzia didn’t last long. Even though it was safe from Mongol invasions, the majority of the town was destroyed by a devastating earthquake in 1283. However, a monastery community continued to live here until the Persian attack in 1551. The famous fresco of the Virgin Mary, doors made of gold and steel, and many cultural treasures of that time was lost.

And when Ottomans took over the region in the 16th century, Vardzia cave monastery was fully abandoned.

Today, Vardzia is part of a state heritage reserve and it has been submitted to UNESCO World Heritage List along with Khertivisi Fortress. You can wander through around 300 apartments, rooms, and tunnels, as well as visit the church and admire some of the most important wall paintings that still remain in its best shape.

The legend of the derivation of the name

King George III together with his counterparts and daughter Tamar was hunting in the area. Entertained with a fun activity, they completely forgot about the child, who got lost in the caves when playing around. When realizing the Tamar was missing, the hunting stop and everyone started to search for her. One of the huntsmans started to shout: “Where are you, Tamar?”. He finally heard Tamar calling from inside the cave: “Aq Var Dzia!” which translates into English as “I am here Uncle!” This is why the place is called Vardzia.

 

How to get to Vardzia

Unfortunately, Georgia doesn’t have a good bad inland transportation system. There are no direct buses or minibusses from Tbilisi to Vardzia. Therefore, the best way to get to Vardzia is to rent a car and drive on your own and stop whenever and wherever you want.

Alternatively, you can go by minibus from Tbilisi to Akhaltsikhe from Didube Bus Station and then take another minibus from Akhaltsikhe to Vardzia. However, the schedule of the minibusses might be inconsistent, so be prepared to stay overnight in Akhaltsikhe.

Ticket Price

  • Adults – 7 ₾
  • School children – 1 ₾
  • Guide – 25 ₾
  • Audio guide – 10 ლ

Working hours: Every day 10 a.m – 7 p.m, except Mondays.

While you are in Georgia, check these marvellous sites as well:

20 Comments

  • Verena

    I’ve never thought of visiting Georgia, but I think I should change my mind. The caves look so beautiful and you give great information about the history! Very interesting, thanks for sharing!

  • YUKTI Agrawal

    I loved Georgia but missed Vardzia as I was rushing out of time and went to Rabati Castle and Gori cave towns. But during my next visit to Georgia, Vardzia is on my top priority.

  • eli

    That landscape is absolutely unreal! I never knew much about Georgia but wow, it does look stunning. The history sounds amazing too.

  • Lydia

    Georgia seems like an awesome country to explore and your post caused the travel bug to itch me. I really hope I’ll get to explore it soon and of course, see Vardzia while being there. Is Georgia a good road trip destination?

  • umiko

    I have no idea there’s a real place like this. I thought it’s only in the movie. This is so cool! Glad I bumped into your post. Thank you for writing a post about Vardzia caves. Now my knowledge is even wider.

  • Baia

    Yes! It’s more easier to have a road trip than rely on public transport. Especially to Vardzia

  • Sanne

    Georgia never crossed my mind as a destination I had to visit, until I read this post! Sadly the public transport is not great, because I don’t like driving. But luckily there are possibilities!

  • Leah

    What an interesting story behind these caves! I’ve never been to Georgia, but I’ve always been interested in visiting this part of the world. Now you’ve given me another reason to go 🙂

  • Zoe

    Beautiful photos of the cave, I didn’t even know these existed in Georgia (Totally need to look into travelling there!). I think renting a car seems best too – my favorite way to explore a country!

  • Amy Fujimoto

    Whoa, those caves are awesome! And to think that some places don’t lead anywhere to confuse the enemies…that makes me not want to get lost in there, lol, but still want to see this!

  • Amber Tatton

    I really want to visit Georgia, especially after seeing so many awesome posts about Tbisili. This place looks insane though and has such a cool past. I love those paintings and how many things have happened there, it really was unlucky.

  • Emily

    Such an amazing place! Every time I read about the scale of Vardzia my jaw drops. Incomprehensible. You’re so lucky to have so many interesting historical sites right on your doorstep to explore! Great photos of the interior frescoes—they’re so colourful!

  • Mohana Das

    This is amazing! So much planning must have gone into designing and building a cave town this intricate and of such proportions. I love the colourful frescoes on the wall. This place feels like a timewarp, doesn’t it?

  • Mayi Mac

    This is such an interesting place! It reminds me of the Dogon country in Mali and the caves of Lascaux in France. I didn’t know such things existed elsewhere (but it’s to be expected) I am now intrigued by Georgia and hope to visit one day.

  • Ali Dunnell

    Vardzia sounds and looks like a fascinating place to visit. I have never heard of Vardzia before, despite being a huge fan of art and murals. After reading your post I have put Vardzia right at the top of my bucket list of places to visit. Thank you so much for sharing this and drawing my attention to this beautiful place.

  • Ketki

    It blows my mind how ancient stuff is so cool even today surviving all those years. Thank you for sharing about this cave town – had not heard about it before.

  • Marvi

    What an interesting Heritage Site, one that I’d like to visit for sure! I didn’t know such a place exist (this somehow reminds me of the Hobbit/ Lord of the Rings movies. LOL). I wonder if the rooms at the caves are spacious enough not to cause claustrophobia?

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