vardziya: the city and the monastery in the cave
Vardzia (ვარძია) — this monument of the cave monastery complex of XII—XIII century , appears in the top of the list of tourist attractions in Georgia.
An outstanding monument of medieval Georgian architecture. Located in Aspindza region of the province of Samtskhe-Javakheti, in the valley of the Kura river (Mtkvari), approximately 70 km South from the town of Borjomi, near the village of the same name.
For 900 m along the left banks of the Kura river in the steep tuff wall of the mountain Erusheti (Bear) is carved up to 600 premises: churches, chapels, residential cells, storerooms, baths, refectory, treasuries, libraries. Premises of the complex go to 50 meters deep into the rock and rise to a height of eight floors. Preserved secret passages linking the premises, the remains of plumbing and irrigation system.
Quiet monastic abode, the abode of kings at the time, an indestructible fortress and a secret military Outpost — it’s all Vardzia, one of the most spectacular sights in Georgia.
“Overcoming external enemies, king George turned all his care to the dispensation of welfare iverzev inside their possessions and for the restoration of lasting peace and tranquility of his subjects,” writes in his “History of Georgia,” Davit Bagrationi. One of these “care” was the construction of Vardzia, which began in the 50-ies of the XII century. For decades they fought men on a cliff over the Chicken, turning it into a high-rise, hidden from the prying eyes of the city with many rooms, cells, staircases, and long passages and secret entrances.
George III has gone down in history as the king who began the difficult unification of Georgia. He began to consistently and successfully recapturing previously captured enemies of the Georgian land. He cared about the prosperity of his subjects. However, this great king did not have enough time to finish their business. In 1184, he died, leaving the construction of the cave complex Vardzia is in full swing.
But the great people in life take care to ensure that their works lasted on this earth and after their death. George III had no sons, the throne should go to someone from his nephews. However, the king found the strength and courage to go against centuries-old traditions, and leave the throne to his daughter — Tamara. And the decision of the king was the wisest of all his reign.
That’s when Tamara was conceived this surreal project to create underground cities, underground bunkers reminiscent of the twentieth century or Morey in the description of Tolkien. Modern vardziya is a modest part of what it was originally. The earthquake of 1283 destroyed almost cave city and we see ruins. And the idea was great.
Tamara not only completed the construction of Vardzia, but continued the work of unification of the state. During her reign Georgia experienced its “Golden age”: it greatly expanded the territory of the country, many of which were built have survived to our times, the churches, the arts flourished. By the way, the poem “the knight in the Panther’s skin” — the most famous monument of Georgian literature is Shota Rustaveli dedicated his Queen.
Tamara was an opponent of corporal punishment, she did not give any orders to the death penalty. The Queen was not only smart and educated about its beauty, wrote poems and legends, and habitat has asked for her hand it was possible to study then geography.
For their service to the country Tamara was canonized, her images are found not only on the ancient temple frescos, but also on the quite modern Georgian money. Today Georgians speak of it with love and respect and put on a par with its major saints, George and Nino.
Never, on assurances of the Georgian historians, the country, then called Iberia, was able to achieve such prosperity. But, here it is, a historical injustice — Tamara was the only Georgian female ruler. Yes and called her Queen, and king. How embarrassing now Patriarchal Georgians to sit at the table under the leadership of women of Toastmasters, so, apparently, it is a shame and if it was to flourish under the control of the Queen.
But back to our caves. The construction of Vardzia lasted a century and ended in 1205 In contrast to Uplistsikhe, Vardzia had no artificial fortifications. The ramparts served as a rock, inside of which was well sheltered from prying eyes monastery.
However, took refuge here not only to humble monks. The proximity to the Turkish border, strategically positioned above the narrow gorge and the inaccessibility of Vardzia made it an Outpost of defense against the raids. Hundreds of soldiers were ready at any time to leave the fortress through the secret exits and a sudden attack to draw the enemy to flight.
But nothing lasts forever, in the end of XIII century fell this fortress. Moreover, Pala in the truest sense of the word. Conquered Vardzia not enemy forces, but far more powerful forces of nature. During a strong earthquake from a rock broke off a huge layer of rock, exposing most of the interior spaces, and many altogether destroyed. Hidden in the thickness of the stone only a few inner passages and rooms, one of which still supplies the monks with clean, cold water source.
Vardzia has ceased to be a fortress, remaining monastic cloister to the middle of the XVI century, when the monastery was captured by the Persians. After the Persians at Vardzia was invaded by the Turks, destructive power is almost being equivalent befell the monastery before a natural disaster. After destroying the monastery, the Turks took everything that represented though any value. What values are not represented, the invaders simply burned directly under the arches of the main temple. And certainly the Turks had no reason to spare the servants of an alien faith — monks burned in the same fire.
But God works in mysterious ways. Smoke these terrible fires burned in the frescos of the Dormition Church, and the layer of soot securely sheltered them for many centuries. They were equally well protected from both damp and from vandals. When the southern part of Georgia was liberated from the Turks in the first half of the XIX century, the monks returned to Vardzia, cleansed the temple of the frescoes from soot and resumed monastic life, slowly current here today.
Now Vardzia — is a suburb of the country, but once it was near the center and the main thoroughfare. The most famous moment in the city’s history — a campaign against the Seljuk 1201 (1204?), when the battle of Basiani the Georgian army was encamped in front of Vardzia, and then Tamara followed her from the gallery of the city.
In addition to the religious orientation, the monastery carried out a protective function. Monastery-fortress protected the river valley from potential attacks of the Turks and the Iranians. In time of war, here found their refuge of the Royal family. With the “outside world” the monastery were connected by three underground exit.
In 1283 an earthquake destroyed a large part of the complex. In 1551 there’s something Porush Persians, and 20 years later came the Turks and the monastery ceased to exist. The Turks killed all monks they burned alive in the main temple of the monastery. When the Turks lived here the shepherds. In 1828, the Russian army won this area from Turkey, and the monastery again began to act.
In Soviet times, the whole district was a closed border zone, this way allowed only by permit. The tourism industry was quite dense. Somewhere nearby, even the hotel was.
To get to Vardzia from the road, need to cross the bridge Kuru. To the right stretches a kilometer mountain cliff, pitted with caves. The main cave at the far end. Vardzia is somewhat similar to BC but it is more vertical and is deep in the rock, here it is necessary to go up and down and from time to time down to the dungeons. Cavers will feel home here, but people unfamiliar is scary.
Directly on the territory of Vardzia is a working monastery, the entrance to it is limited. Now the whole complex is cultivated, supplied with railings, ladders, and even electric lighting. In one place there is even a spring you can drink.
In the center of the monastery is the main temple in honor of the assumption of the blessed virgin. Temple hall-type covered with a torispherical vault (supporting the arches) and pilasters on the walls — unique mural paintings (including images of king George III and Queen Tamar, 1180-ies., master George). Great historical and artistic value are the frescoes of the Dormition of the Mother of God, the ascension and Transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Vardzia is a paid facility, but only costs 10 lari, including the rise..
Tickets are sold downstairs at the reception. Right from the reception the trail starts up. On the left there you can see a few minor caves. the path leads to a small tower, which represents something like a main entrance. Actually Vardzia starts behind this turret.
From a turret visitors usually go to the Central temple. it is built as if in a large cave, and behind him in the depth of the rock is a large free space, and there’s even a second small temple.
Visit Vardzia imeeet sense to combine with all the surrounding interesting — that would not go twice. The closest is Vardzia-the light, the cave Vanis-kvabebi. A little further North Tmogvi castle, Tmogvi village with a temple Zonda, North of Khertvisi and the megalithic fortress in Saro. The same rarity is a fortress, Melis-tsikhe that upstream, 15 kilometers from Mirashkhani. Fortress nazhoditsya on the Turkish side, but it can be clearly seen from the Georgian coast. Just before going to need to beprepared the police in Aspindza. The border is still.
In Georgia, there is another monastery called “Vardzia”. It is situated in Imereti, a little South of the town of Zestafoni.