Vardzia Cave Monastery

Useful Information

Location: Vardzia. Mt Erusheli, southern Georgia near Aspindza, left bank of the Mtkvari River.
Classification: SpeleologyKarst cave
Light: electric.
Dimension: L=900m, VR=40m,
Guided tours:  
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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founded by King George III.
1185 transformed into a monastery by Queen Tamar.
1283 destroyed by an earthquake.
1551 raided by Persians commanded by Shah Tahmasp I.
1993 nominated by the Georgian governement for the UNESCO WHL.


Vardzia is a cave complex from the 12th century, famous for mural paintings and sculptures. The complex was founded by King Giorgi III and enlarged by his daughter Queen Tamar (1184-1213). Giorgi founded it as a border fortress, but his daughter transformed it into a monastery in 1185. During a military conflict with the Great Seljuq Empire she lived here between 1193 and 1195.

The complex originally had about 3,000 housings and was big enough for 50,000 inhabitants. Each housing consisted of three rooms. The cells on seven levels were cut into the rock, connected by tunnels, shafts, and balconies. There was a library, bakeries, stables, and baths. The water supply was provided by aqueducts and ceramic pipes.

The extraordinary construction of arificial caves in a steep hillside was intended as protection from the Turks and Persians. It worked well as a fortress, but was destroyed by an earthquake im 1283. Only 750 rooms still exist. The main church of the city is Dormitio Virginis and contains frescoes by master Giorgi.

The monastery was raided in 1551 by Persians commanded by Shah Tahmasp I. They captured all important icons and actually destroyed the monastery. The place is again used as a monastery, but nowadays the monks live in normal buildings at the foot of the cliff. The monks offer guided tours to visitors.