Many have likened Vardzia to the dwarf’s kingdom Moria in Lord of the Rings.
The original complex of Vardzia was completely hidden from outsiders and could only be accessed through a series of underground tunnels. But a huge earthquake in 1283 caused a part of the cliff to collapse, exposing the inner rooms and passageways.
The crazy part is that it’s still inhabited! There’s a group of monks who still reside on some of the apartments. You can tell these apart because they’d have little signs of occupancy like curtains over the windows and flower pots.
Related: How weird is Akhaltsikhe? Pretty weird.
The drive to Vardzia itself is worth mentioning. It’s a scenic, riverside drive passing dry, rocky landscape and Tmogvie Castle which still looks as imposing as it must have in 10th century.
If you’re not coming from Turkey, Vardzia can be done as a long day trip from Tbilisi. If you do, don’t miss out the beautiful Sapara Monastery and the charming town of Akhaltsikhe itself.
Getting to Vardzia from Akhaltsikhe
Getting to Vardzia from Akhaltsike is pretty straightforward. There are a couple of marshrutska daily from Akhaltsikhe to Vardzia. Taking the first marshrutska from Akhaltsike gets you to Vardzia by noon. A more comfortable alternative is to take a private taxi. 40 GEL return trip or 60 GEL return for both Vardzia and Sapara monastery (highly recommended).
Brilliant pictures! Did you get a taxi from Akhaltsikhe early in the morning? May I ask which month did you travel in?
Yes I did. I started at 6 am. I was lucky that the owner of the guesthouse I was staying is also a taxi driver so it was easy to arrange. I traveled there in September.
I actually went there with my wife last summer! It's quite a hike away from civilization, but my wife and I enjoyed the journey ;). I'm actually going to post about this on my blog (http://mannyliminex.blogspot.com/), so look forward to some good stories!
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Have you also been to Uplistsikhe? To me, it was more impressive than Vardzia. 🙂
I have and thought it was also pretty awesome. I think the fact that it didn’t quite make as big of an impression was due to timing – it was towards the end of my trip and I was ‘cave city-ied’ out.
What an interesting spot. Georgia is definitely not on the typical tourist trail but what an interesting country it turned out to be judging from your photos.
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Had that earthquake not happened, Vardzia would have completely been hidden from us today, probably. Such a wonderful place! And I do see why some think of Moria when they saw this place. I bet you didn’t have to speak “friend” to enter. 🙂
Nice Photos. You got me intrigued on Georgia now.
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I did some underwater caving in Laos and got claustrophobic.
I'm not a huge historian but it's amazing that they kept a record of the earthquake and what it did. What a unique place.
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