Akhaltsikhe, Georgia

Vardzia cave city

Vardzia is a cave city complex near Akhaltsikhe that was built by Queen Tamar in the 12th century to defend against invaders. The result of this endeavor was a massive city-slash-monastery complex containing 13 floors and 6000 apartments (AND 25 wine cellars AND 13 churches) carved out a cliffside (which goes to show that there’s no better motivational tool than self-preservation).

Many have likened Vardzia to the dwarf’s kingdom Moria in Lord of the Rings.

Cave city Georgia

The 2 arch portica of the chapel inside Vardzia

The chapel door  inside Vardzia

The Church of the Assumption door inside Vardzia

Vardzia, the monastery complex of Georgia

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.

Tmogvi Castle, Georgia

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

Admission to Vardzia: 3 GEL

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).

Have you been to a cave city before?