Vardzia Cave Monastery

Tmogvi, Georgia

Vardzia is a cave monastery site excavated from the slopes of the Erusheti Mountain on the left bank of the Kura River. The caves stretch along the cliff for some five hundred meters and in up to nineteen tiers.

Vardzia was inhabited during the Bronze Age and indicated the reach of Trialeti culture. Four distinct building phases have been identified at Vardzia. The first was during the reign of Giorgi III (1156-1184), when the site was laid out and the first cave dwellings excavated. The second period was between his death and the marriage of his successor Tamar in 1186, when the Church of the Dormition was carved out and decorated. The third was from that date until the Battle of Basian c.1203, during which time many more dwellings as well as the defences, water supply, and irrigation network were constructed. The fourth period was a partial rebuilding after heavy damage in the earthquake of 1283.

The Church of the Dormition, dating to the 1180s during the golden age of Tamar and Rustaveli, has an important series of wall paintings. The site was largely abandoned after the Ottoman takeover in the sixteenth century.

Now part of a state heritage reserve, the extended area of Vardzia-Khertvisi has been submitted for future inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

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Founded: 12th century
Category: Religious sites in Georgia

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