Cave Town Vardzia
The cave town of Vardzia is one of the most important and impressive historic monuments in Georgia. At an altitude of 1300 metres above sea level, and starting 100 metres above the valley floor, the caves continue up for half a kilometre and had 13 floors, connected by a complex system of tunnels. Vardzia was built by King George III in 1156-1184 and this incredible town quickly grew to consist of over 3,000 caves that could accommodate 50,000 people at a time. The Vardzia complex had living quarters, refectories, barns, wine cellars (marani), stables, drugstores and even libraries. The town had a potable water supply and a sewerage system. A monastery still exists and practices in the caves today
The Khertvisi Fortress was built on a rocky mountain at the junction of the Artaani Mtkvari and Javakheti Mtkvari rivers. The first record of Khertvisi is part of a legend, in which it was one of the first fortresses that Alexander the Great came across in Georgia. An inscription on a damaged stone reads “The King of the Kings” and is dated from 985. A small church located in the central part of the fortress had been ruined but was reconstructed in 2000. Khertvisi was built by Georgians to protect the country, but in the second half of the 16th century Osmans (a Turkish tribe) started to fortify it into a stronghold, making it easy for them to conquer Georgia. Part of the fortress has remained unharmed and still has a tunnel leading to the river. Another part of the original fortress – a twenty metre high tower – is still in good condition
Saphara Monastery is one of the most interesting monuments of Georgian architecture, located just 15 kilometres South-East of Akhaltsikhe. The first records of Saphara date back to the 10th century and in the 13-14th centuries the monastery included 12 churches and chapels. The monastery is surrounded by a wall equipped with an observation tower and even has a fortress where people from neighboring villages used to hide during times of war. Saphara is still functioning today.
Zarzma Monastery, located on top of a hill, includes a church bell tower, a chapel, ruins of two churches and a spring. The oldest records mentioning a monastery in the same area are contained in a book describing the life of Serapion of Zarzma, who came from Tao-Klarjeti together with his brother in the 9th century. Presently Zarzma is an acting monastery.
Samtskhe-Javakheti is a region that never stops surprising visitors, from the mineral springs of Borjomi to the ancient cave city of Vardzia. Historically one of the most important cultural centres in Georgia, much of the region today is virtually unknown to tourists, but this ancient land of cave cities and hilltop monasteries is once again opening its doors to the outside world – specially now that a new road means you can get here in just two hours from Tbilisi. It is a mountainous, volcanic region, traversed by ravines, springs and lakes, as well as large and fast moving rivers. But this diverse landscape provides a perfect cultivation area for the production of some of Georgia’s most famous and best known traditional foods. Samtskhe-Javakheti’s location at the crossroads of three civilizations contributed to an intense development of relations between the ancient cultures of Georgia, Asia Minor, and the Middle East. Archaeological remains show that the area was particularly advanced by the Bronze Age and developed further through the medieval period. Today many monuments still stand to tell their remarkable stories and no modern traveller’s journey to Georgia is complete without a visit to one or more of the Saro and Abuli castles, or Akhaltsikhe fortress, Safara and Zarzma Monastery complexes, Vardzia cave town, or the incredible mineral springs in Borjomi.
18th century Akhaltsikhe Fortress is often called the symbol of tolerance, occupies around 7 hectares and was returned to its original appearance. A church, mosque, minaret, synagogue, as well as Jaqelebi Palace, a historic museum, old baths and a citadel, have been restored on the territory of Rabat Castle. Samtskhe-Javakheti Historical Museum is located in the old castle, the Rabat. Here you will find and see rare and preserved archeological and ethnographical materials, old manuscripts detailing the stories of the region including a fragment of the manuscript of “The Knight in the Panther’s Skin,” Georgia’s most famous poem, consisting of over 1600 verses and written in the 12th century at the Royal Court of Queen Tamar of Georgia.
The most famous and incredible thing about Borjomi is its unique mineral waters that are at least the equal of the world’s best. Its natural high purity and healthy chemical components make it not only pleasant to drink but also a perfect preventive and curative against a number of diseases. The water is rich in the most important and necessary micro-elements for life and each spring in the region is characterized by the effect these various properties have on the wildlife. There are hundreds of different springs and each one has its own unique taste and temperature. The water’s curative effects were well known to the locals since ancient times and a stone bathing tub dating back to the 1st century BC was recently found here.