A Trip to Davit Gareja

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.

wild flowers

wild flowers

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.

Lavra Monastery

Lavra Monastery

Church of the Transfiguration

Church of the Transfiguration

St Davit Garajeli's grave

St Davit Garajeli’s grave


Natia “Katniss” climbs a tree

The route to Udabno isn’t signposted, sometimes tourists take the wrong route and have to backtrack.

P1260947Many school groups visit the site and now seem keen on creating that original photo to add to their social media accounts.


Photo Opportunity at Larva Monastery

The Lonely Planet Guide warns to “Watch out for poisonous vipers on this route, especially from April to June.” We didn’t see any.

Through the vegetation...

Through the vegetation…

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.

Udbano Monastery

Udabno Monastery

at the top, Azerbaijan behind us

at the top, Azerbaijan behind us

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.

P1270074P1270075Graffiti in Russian, Georgian and even Polish.



Refectory: The frescoes were painted in the 11th Century, here the monks had to kneel to eat at low stone tables.

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 Last Supper

The Last Supper on the wall of the refectory.

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.

Tamuna, Natia and Khato at the top of the hill

Tamuna, Natia and Khato at the top of the hill

some kind of raptor, any ornithologists able to identify this impressive bird?

Griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus)

After Davit Gareja, we visited the ruins of  Ninotsminda Cathedral in Kakheti.

Entrance to Ninotsminda Cathedral

Entrance to Ninotsminda Cathedral

Remains of the Cathedral

Ruins of the Cathedral

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.

Eastern Apse

Eastern Apse

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.

Supra with Khinkali (Dumplings containing meat and spices)

Supra with Khinkali (Dumplings containing meat and spices)


  1. Jim- what a fantastic tour you provided for your blog-buddies! Surviving and lost architectural treasures… such contrasts. Sad that the ancient structures have been vandalized by humans, nature, and time. Thank you for the historical perspectives.

  2. As a Georgian person, I’m very impressed and pleased that you enjoyed different parts of the country. Thanks for sharing your story and the lovely photos 🙂

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