Vardzia looks like it was taken directly from the pages of Lord of the Rings. In reality it is a cave-palace-monastery built not by dwarfs, but by Georgians in the Caucasus for their fabled queen Tamar. There used to be about 3000 caves here, but now there are just over 500. It has a church hewn out of rock with amazing 12th-century frescoes. The Complex also includes living quarters, small hall-type churches, and refectories, wine cellar, etc.
Most of the rock-hewn chambers in the city were intended for residence. Each dwelling consists of three adjacent rooms, cut consecutively from the face into the depth of the rock along a south to north axis. The floors were connected by secret passages and holes made in the ceilings of the porticoes with wooden ladders attached to them.
On the outside of the hidden monastery the land of the mountain was extremely fertile. The monks created a system of irrigated terraces that would feed those inside. Hidden within the mountain and perhaps the first example of an eco-friendly self-sustainable (in terms of food and water) structure in Europe, it must have been considered impregnable. Yet nature had an unpleasant surprise for the cave city of Vardzia.
Less than a hundred years after its construction, the great earthquake of 1283 brought devastation to the country. The earthquake was so powerful that it ruptured the cave system, causing much of it to collapse and cascade down the side of the Erusheti Mountain. Despite the damage many of the frescoes still survive.
The monastery, more than simply decimated, did not give up. It continued until 1551 but was then attacked and pillaged by the Persian Sash Tahmasp who slaughtered the monks. It was then that Vardzia was finally abandoned.
Yet in the twentieth century the monastery was revisited by monks who decided to guard its history and a small group remain there to this day. It is more of a museum now than a monastery but still serves as a reminder of the extremes a people will go to in order to protect their culture as well as the savage vagaries of nature.
Extra fees for entrance tickets
Rustaveli str 59 Batumi, Georgia