Back in 12th century Georgia the Mongols tried to invade the country. In that time, the country had a strong queen named Tamar who ordered to built a city in the caves in the southern part of the country, hidden in the mountains. Despite several protests from different other leaders of the country, as the project was very difficult and Tamar was a woman which was quite unusual for that time, the plan succeeded. The country was not invaded and the cave dwelling was later turned into a monastery. Although being abandoned after a while, monks started guarding the city again and live here even during this day.
After exploring the beautiful ruins of Ani, it was finally time to go to the country I have been wanting to go for seven years: Georgia! When looking up information about public transport from Turkey to Georgia, I noticed that almost all the buses went to Batumi, a city on the black sea coast, first. Because that’s mainly a city with lots of casinos we didn’t really feel like going there first, so I asked for buses that went to the city of Akhaltsikhe. It wasn’t the easiest road imaginable, we had to get on different buses and even the bus drivers didn’t know which bus to take sometimes, we managed to get to the border anyway. The bus ride itself is beautiful! It takes you through mountains, mountain villages, lots of snow and the occasional military base.
Arriving at the border, we got accompanied by a Turkish man who thought we couldn’t handle it ourselves probably. After that time he didn’t leave us alone and went with us in the taxi all the way to the hostel. A peculiar thing happened that ride. At one point the taxi driver pulled over to a parking spot in the middle of nowhere, stopped the car, got the keys out and opened the glove compartment to get something out (the point were Jenny thought he was maybe planning to kill us). He got another car key (I noticed because it had a different key chain) and drove off again. What’s that about?
The Turkish man got out of the taxi as well when we arrived at the hostel and tried to arrange things for us there (I booked in advance) and even followed us into our room. That was a bit too much, so luckily we could get rid of him. Those men in that area are quite something. So be careful when traveling by yourself there ladies!
The next day we went to Vardzia by bus. At first I thought it would take us an hour and a half to walk through these cave dwellings, but I was definitely mistaken by that. To see everything, you need a whole afternoon. Besides the rooms that lay in the surface of the rocks, there is also a huge tunnel system where you can wander through. And it seems it never ends. Climbing up and down the stairs on the outside of the monastery makes you feel you ended up in Lord Of The Rings. The gate of the watch tower is beautifully decorated with ornaments. And also in the church behind it you can find the prettiest wall paintings.
The whole system contains about 6000 rooms, so imagine how big this place actually is. Although building this cave dwelling kept out the mongols, the biggest problem was nature itself unfortunately. A couple of times the rocks above it collapsed and big parts were destroyed because of that.
Nowadays a couple of monks live here again to guard it and to remember this once mighty stronghold hidden in the mountains of Georgia.
Want to visit as well?
1. Akhaltsikhe is a small city where you can take the bus to Vardzia. The city has a nice castle as well!
2. When using public transport, keep in mind that you need a morning or an afternoon if you want to properly see everything. The last bus leaves at three o’çlock though. Going by own car would be the best. Or make a good deal with a taxi driver. Taking a taxi is not expensive!
3. There are plenty of other things to see around the area. Bojromi or the monastery of Ninotsminda for example.