Davit Gareja is one of the most remarkable historic sites in Georgia. Founded in the 6th Century AD by Saint Davit Garejeli, who retreated from Tbilisi for the solitude of the rocky semi arid landscape in South East Georgia, today bordering Azerbaijan. In May, the site is resplendent in wild flowers, in contrast to the aridity of drier months.
We met up at Isani Metro with others on our trip. The weather forecast wasn’t great so there were just eight of us going, rather than the usual dozen. The sky was mostly overcast but it only rained close to the time we were leaving.
Davit Gareja isn’t far from Tbilisi, but the journey is slow as the roads are rough and full of potholes. The Davit Gareja complex comprises 15 old monasteries, Lavra is the only one inhabited today. On the hill above it is Udabno, with beautiful frescoes.
The route to Udabno isn’t signposted, sometimes tourists take the wrong route and have to backtrack.
The Lonely Planet Guide warns to “Watch out for poisonous vipers on this route, especially from April to June.” We didn’t see any.
On top of the hill is Udabno Monastery founded in the 9th-10th centuries, a branch of the Larva Monastery. It was closed when we arrived.
When we pass the top of the hill, we enter into Azerbaijan but there are no border controls, the frescoes on the Azeri side are badly damaged. During the Soviet era, the area was used for military exercises and the monasteries were neglected and vandalised.
The monasteries were destroyed by the Mongols in 1265, revived by Giorgi V in the 14th century, sacked by Timur and sunk to their nadir on Easter night 1615 when Shah Abbas’ soldiers killed around 6000 monks and destroyed many artistic treasures. The monasteries never regained their importance after this but remained functional until the end of the 19th century.
The plains below to the left are Azerbaijan.
It takes two to three hours to explore the site at a leisurely pace. We stopped many times to take photos of the site, of the flowers and of each other.
After Davit Gareja, we visited the ruins of Ninotsminda Cathedral in Kakheti.
The cathedral founded in c 575 AD was destroyed by two massive earthquakes in the nineteenth century (1824 and 1848).
Only part of the eastern apse and a portion of the Western wall remain.
The brick belltower from the sixteenth century with an intricate brickwork pattern is still standing.
To round off a Georgian excursion we had a supra (Georgian feast) with khinkali and wine chez nous.