Vardzia Cave Town is a distinctive place to visit and I strongly recommend adding it to your itinerary when visiting Georgia. It reminded me of Cappadocia in Turkey minus the phallic rock formations. One of the main reasons for the construction of a cave town like Vardzia was to avoid attacks from the Mongol, Persian & Turkish armies which were constantly threatening the Georgian Kingdom.
On your way to Vardzia Cave Town, you should first stop at the view point for some lovely views and a great photo spot.
The location of the viewpoint can be found here:
From there, continue on to Vardzia Cave Town. there is a small bridge you will drive over and then you’ll see a sign for CaveTown towards the right. The road culminates in Cave Town where you’ll see parking, some restaurants and the ticket office. If you’re coming from a long drive, you can use the clean bathrooms here.
Tickets cost 15GEL for non citizens and I also recommend paying an extra 2GEL for the minibus to take you to the entrance which will save you 45 minutes of walking uphill. The path into the caves is pretty apparent and you’ll be treated to amazing views of the valley below as you traverse the path.
The story of Vardzia is connected with King George III and his daughter Tamar. While King George was hunting with some Georgian nobles and his daughter, they lost her. Tamar was playing, and that is why she did not notice that she was lost in the cave town. Right after they noticed that she was missing, the King ordered to stop hunting and started searching for her. The hunters started to run around, and they were crying out the following words: “Tamar, where are you?”. She heard the voice and answered back with a happy voice: “Aq Var Dzia” which means: “I am here uncle.” Hence the name of this place ‘Vardzia.’
It was home to more than 2,000 monks who lived in numerous cells, carved into the rocks. In total, the cave town of Vardzia consisted of 3 000 rooms in 13 storeys that served as cells, living spaces, stables, treasuries, libraries, shops and even pharmacies. Special sites called Marani were allocated to the chief Georgian beverage. In Marani, the monks used to store old wine in special jars. The floors were connected to each other by secret passages and holes made in the ceilings with wooden ladders attached to them.
The Church of the Dormition is the most impressive part of the site with intricate paintings, archways and hanging bells. Note that there are no photos allowed inside the church. You should- if you are not claustrophobic- go through the tunnels behind the church.
Exploring the town
For the most part, you are free to roam through the tunnels and in the caves. The Church is the halfway point and from there, you’ll be heading towards the exit. At the other side of the complex, you’ll find a tunnel that leads to the bottom and loops back to the entrance and ticket office.
How much you see depends on you, the climate and your willingness to go through the entire complex. You can go halfway (will take you about 40 minutes including stops for photos) and return the way you entered or you can continue on to the end (budget for 90 minutes in total especially if it’s busy).
As this is still a working monastery, I advise dressing modestly.
Why would you not visit Vardzia Cave Town? After all, it’s an incredible ancient city built within a mountain with a vibrant history and plenty of cave rooms and tunnels to explore. My only complaint is that there are no plaques disseminating information so you have to do your research before or after you visit.