Vardzia is a cave monastery site in Georgia, on the slopes of the Erusheti Mountain.
The first cave dwellings were created in the second half of the 12 century during the reign of Giorgi III. The site is now a part of the Vardzia Historical–Architectural Museum-Reserve. Vardzia was seriously damaged by the earthquake of 1283, but soon partially rebuilt.
Fees and permits
Admission to Vardzia is 5 lari.
However, from Akhaltsikhe there are three marshrutkas/minibuses a day, leaving Akhaltsikhe at 10:30, 13:00, and 15:00. The buses back, confusingly, leave at the same times. The is however an additonal bus to Aspindza at 18:00.
Walking is the only way to get around Vardzia.
- 1 Church of the Dormition (Virgin Mary Church). A late 12th century church decorated by elaborate mural paintings. Among them are the portraits of Giorgi III and of queen Tamar, his daughter and successor, during whose reign the paintings were created. Other painting include scenes from the New Testament and images of saints. The church is cut deeply into the rocks and even has further interesting tunnels leading from behind the church rooms to the upper level.
- 2 Vanis Kvabebi (there is a sign along the road about 5 km before Vardzia, the track is 300 m up). Another cave monastery consisting of six churches and very popular with people. Several hundred rock caves on 16 floors, used as shelter, vault, tomb and market. About an hour's walk or 5 km away from Vardzia on the road back to the highway.
The church (St. George) built here dates back to the 8th century. The caves where added between the 9th and 11th century. In 1089, a strong earthquake destroyed parts of the caves and the church. Reconstruction was carried out during the reign of Queen Tamar. In 1204, the old stone wall was rebuilt. Between 1204 and 1283, the site was owned by a feudal family named Mkhargrdzeli-Tmogveli. In 1265, the gate, a bell tower and the hall of the St. George church were built. However, in 1551 and 1576 the place was destroyed by the Persians and Ottomans, respectively. After this the place was not used as a monastery anymore.
- 3 Upper Vardzia & Nuns Monastery (3.5 km after Vardzia, continuing the road westwards).
Walking through the caves is pretty much it. Furthermore, you can hike to the nearby attractions.
There is a café opposite the ticket office which operates only in peak season.
There are a number of guesthouses around the Vardzia area, like in Tmogvi, 6 km before Vardzia.
Also, staff and people hanging around the Vardzia ticket office will likely offer you a guesthouse if you so need one.
One such is Gocha Guesthouse, run by Gocha who checks your tickets on entry. His guesthouse is in the nearby village of Nakalakevi. He will take you to and from the guesthouse according to his work hours. Comfortable beds, wifi, and homecooked meals. He charges 20 lari a night for a bed, 10 lari for dinner, 10 for breakfast, and 5 if you try either his homemade wine of vodka. He may offer to take you to the Madame [Nuns] Monastery and will charge you 10 lari for his troubles. He speaks little English but enough to get by.
You could continue into Armenia via Akhalkalaki from here, but most people will go back to Borjomi or Akhaltsikhe, where they originally came from.