Tourist’s guide to Vardzia – the ancient cave city of Georgia

Beautiful Vardzia in Georgia … A country of fabulous mountain scenery and such fresh air that will make you dizzy. Your eyes will feast on the variety of colors, and your heart will be full of excitement and anticipation of revealing ancient secrets.

The unforgettable cave city of Vardzia was not preserved as it was conceived by the creators in the XII century, but, of course, this place has its own unique charm. And, going deeper and deeper into this stone “termite mound”, one cannot help but be surprised at the skill and patience of the ancient builders.

Photo: Vardzia city

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The history of the mysterious Vardzia

Vardzia is a cave city, which was hollowed out in bright tuff rocks. His mother is Mount Erusheti. The city is located at an altitude of 1300 m above sea level. The grandiose project began nine centuries ago, during the reign of Tsar George III, and then his heiress, Queen Tamara, better known among us. Such overwork began not just out of a whim: the city was to become a refuge in case of enemy attacks. The rocky landscape played into the hands of the Georgians: the fortress became impregnable for the enemy. Twenty thousand people could hide in the caves of Vardzia.

photo: carved into the rock room
Cave room

In addition to the cells where they could live, the builders also provided for storage rooms, book depositories, chapels, a hospital, and wine cellars. The queen built the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. However, already in the XIII century (after about a hundred years), an earthquake destroyed part of the mountain range that covers the city, and since then the stone labyrinths of Vardzia have appeared on the surface. Hiding here has become impossible.

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Part of the city with a bell tower


Bell tower

But the trouble did not end there. This place was very fond of various enemies. Robbers visited this place every now and then and attacked civilians. In the middle of the XVI century, a fire broke out in Vardzia, which caused a strong lesson to the architectural complex. Oddly enough, there was a plus in the fire: the soot, which was tightly stuck around the murals and frescoes, helped to keep them practically unchanged.

The cave city in Georgia, Vardzia, is now a functioning monastery. Today, Vardzia is located near the Georgian border, and in ancient times it was the heart of the country, there was a large transport artery. When Georgia was captured by the Ottoman Empire, life stopped there. They say that the Turks even burned monks right in the temple. Only two hundred years later, Russian soldiers liberated the city, and the monastery breathed deeply again.

Where is Vardzia located and how to get there?

Vardzia is a child of the mountains. It will take quite a while to get here from the nearest big cities. It is most convenient to go here by minibus from the southern city of Akhaltsikhe. TO know how to get to Akhaltsikhe read this.

Bus station building in Akhaltsikhe


Bus station Akhaltsikhe

Buses depart from Akhaltsikhe near Vardzia 4 times a day: the first at 10:30, then at 12:20, 16:00 and the last at 17:30. It is best to go on the first flight, but it is also the most popular one – there are many people who want to visit the cave monasteries – so come to the minibus in advance and take a seat. In addition, the schedule can change, and buses are delayed. Before the trip, check all the details at the bus station. A ticket costs 5-7 GEL; you will spend about an hour and a half on the road.

How to get to Vardzia from Tbilisi?

From the capital of Georgia to get to the cave city is more difficult, because the distance between them is decent, more than two hundred kilometers. Taxi drivers will be happy to take you, but it will not be cheap, you will have to fork out for up to 350 GEL.

There are no direct bus services from Tbilisi to Vardzia. It is better to get to the above Akhaltsikhe and from there go to the destination on the minibus. Buses from the capital leave from the bus station at the Didube metro station as they fill up.

There is still a route from Rustavi to Vardzia. His path runs through the capital of Georgia, but you should not count on him, because the driver turns to Tbilisi only if there are empty seats. And they very often do not happen.

How to get from Borjomi to Vardzia?

Direct minibuses do not go (again, only from Akhaltsikhe), but there is a good road. By renting a car, you can safely drive. First, along the Borjomi Gorge, where once majestic fortresses stretched out on picturesque cliffs, now for the most part they became a victim of destruction. Then the landscape is transformed, becoming more deserted. The naked mountains of Georgia do not hesitate to show all their beauty.

Upon arrival to Vardzia, you can easily find parking places, as well as a cafe with amazing Georgian cuisine. By the way, if you are planning an excursion in the evening, then keep in mind that the last minibus leaves from Vardzia at three in the afternoon. You will have to hitchhike or take a taxi back. There is a guesthouse nearby. Those who can live without amenities are allowed to put up a tent at the foot.

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What to see in Vardzia

Temple in the Cave, Vardzia


Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (right)

Having conquered a long road, you can see the entrance to the monastery. In the depths for tourists, monastic cells are open, not all, just a few. The narrow corridors of the cave complex curl behind the chapel. Passages are at different levels, and between the differences – original stone stairs. Just imagine: thirteen floors that are linked together by an intricate system of walkways and corridors.

Monk in the hallway


Priest of Vardzia

Now there are six clergymen living in the monastery of Vardzia, a cat is their company. The cells look monotonous, but besides them there are rooms with stone benches, and pantries with various recesses. Observation platforms with benches offer a magnificent view of the mountain landscapes: the quiet Kura River, the indifferent giants-rocks, the Tmogvi fortress. If you look closely, you can consider the border of Georgia with Turkey. You can go to the pools with sulfuric water.

Photo: wall painting


Church from inside

The main pearl of Vardzia, photos confirm this, was the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is located in the heart of the rock, you can go to it along several corridors. The altar and walls of the temple are decorated with ancient frescoes. All passages inside the rock are highlighted. At the exit, a spring hits, you can drink and get water.

Schedules and prices

In summer, more opportunities are open for tourists. In winter, many parts of the monastery are closed – perhaps because in cold weather and ice, their visit can be dangerous. In general, the ancient city of Georgia is open all year, from 9 to 19 hours.

Entrance ticket is inexpensive – adults will pay 3 GEL, children – one. Discounts are given to groups if more than ten people gather, each will give only two lari. There is something to see, so the average walk takes three hours, or even more. A guide is also in place, you can order his services at the reception, it costs 6 GEL.

And this is interesting!

There is a legend about the name of the miracle city of Georgia. As a child, Queen Tamara walked through the caves with her uncle and got a little lost. The girl shouted: “Ak var, Dziya!”, Translated from Georgian, it means “I’m here, uncle!”. Summing up nothing, her dad gave the corresponding name to the cave city.

Photo: Vardzia, Georgia

There is another interesting story, with a touch of mysticism. When they began to build Vardzia, the workers were faced with a big problem. Initially, it was planned to start work on another rock, but the stone was stubborn. He didn’t want to give in, or, on the contrary, crumbled too much. In general, the matter did not go. Tired builders left all the tools by the mountain in the evening and went to sleep.

In the morning, when they again came to the rock, there were no tools in place. Found them near a nearby mountain intact. The next day, everything repeated, and then people understood – this is a sign. The work was transferred to a new rock, and it is now known as Vardzia.

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Vardzia, Georgia is a truly fabulous place. It may not be as photogenic as sunny beaches with coconut trees, but it shares its story with you. Living legend. Having been here, you will never forget these endless mysterious corridors, where, it seems, the ghost of beautiful Tamara still wanders …

Useful information is also present in an interesting video about the journey to Vardzia.



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