Originally published in AWAYN’s website.
This unique rock-hewn monastery and town is located in the Samtskhe-Javakheti region, in the southwest of Georgia and is registered in the tentative list of the UNESCO world culture heritage
If you are going there from Akhaltsikhe, the different landscapes in such a small distance will impress you: the green and flowery valley will gradually become a semi-desert and you’ll end up surrounded by narrow canyons and gorges.
The Vardzia complex was built in the 12th century under the reign of King Tamar- the first one and only queen of Georgia crowned as a king- in the left bank of the river Mtkvari, a strategic position to resist the attacks and attempts of siege of the Mongol hordes.
The intricate system of underground passages and tunnels excavated on the slopes of the Erusheti Mountain connects the 13 tiers of dwelling caves with more than 400 rooms, 25 wine cellars, 6 chapels, the King Tamar’s throne room and the Church of the Assumption, in which you can find beautiful and well-preserved frescoes of that period.
Try to catch the sunrise on your way to Vardzia and you could witness the 7 o’clock daily ritual of ringing the bell performed by the few monks living in there before start their daily tasks.
Spring and summer are the best seasons to visit but if you want to see a different scenery, I suggest you to go during winter, especially if you are coming from Turkey or Armenia because the contrast of the arid environment covered by snow is so unique!