28 March 2015: I hadn’t been further out of Tbilisi than Mtskheta this year, so it was great to go on an excursion to Vardzia a cave city in Samtstikhe-Javakheti,
a region in the South of Georgia bordering Turkey, three hours from Tbilisi. We went with my wife’s Police Academy colleagues. We got up really early (5.45am), we had been told to meet the minibus at 7.30am at Didube in Tbilisi. With true Georgian timing the minibus didn’t actually leave until 8.15am.
Our first stop, not counting a rest stop, was at the castle in Akhaltsikhe (literally New Castle). The castle dating from the 12th Century is a mix of styles and might be described as a Georgian Alhambra, having a Mosque and many Islamic elements.
The mosque was built by Haji Ahmed-Pasha Jaqeli.
The town has a reputation for tolerance in addition to Orthodox Churches and the Mosque, there is also a synagogue, an Armenian church and a Catholic church. There is an interesting museum Ivane Javakhishvili Samtskhe-Javakheti History Museum on the site partly funded by BP, a company which uncovered many interesting artefacts when building their pipelines through Georgia. Unfortunately no photography is allowed inside the museum, which contains a large collection of pottery, manuscripts, arrow heads, clothing and carpets.
After the castle we took the road that follows the upper Mtkvari river through some spectacular scenery to Vardzia.
At Vardzia we had a welcoming committee of 4 dogs, they were friendly employing their soulful eyes to extract some tasty titbits from tourist parties.
The cave city of Vardzia was the highlight of the trip, during Tamar Mepe’s reign (1184-1213) the city was inhabited by as many as 2000 monks with 409 rooms carved out of the rock. A massive earthquake in 1283 shook away the outer walls of many caves.
Vardzia Gallery, click on an image to open the gallery:
On our way back to Tbilisi, we stopped at a roadside restaurant to feast with a Georgian “supra” (literally “table” but applied to Georgian style feasts with plenty of food, wine and toasts).
Maybe there was a little much wine at the supra, some of the party were dancing in the minibus on the way home.
We got back to Tbilisi around midnight after a great day out. Emma also blogged about the trip https://cookiesandthecaucasus.wordpress.com/2015/04/16/postcard-from-vardzia/