A Monastery Hike at Georgia’s David Gareja
The David Gareja monastery complex, on Georgia’s southeastern border with Azerbaijan, is a long-established site of great significance for Georgians. Founded in the 6th century, the complex is still active today and features numerous cells carved straight into the bare rock face. These caves function as living quarters, refectories, chapels, libraries and rooms for instruction and silent meditation.
However, visits to the church on site are welcomed, and guests may rest and enjoy the fresh air in the courtyard adjacent to the church. In a place surrounded by semi-desert, the shade of the few trees in the courtyard is more than welcome.
But to view these beautiful frescoes is no easy feat, as the Udabno Monastery requires a steep uphill climb that takes an average of 30 minutes to an hour, depending on your level of fitness. The first part of the hike is the most grueling; hikers must scramble over bare rock face and steep hills of loose dirt. But it gets better! After a while, as the path continues uphill, it evens out and becomes a more gentle and smooth ascent. Still, it is a relentless climb.
Even though many of the caves are badly ruined and some of the frescoed walls have been completely eroded or destroyed, you can still sense the magnificence of the monastery at its zenith.
The golden age of the David Gareja Monastery corresponds with one of the golden ages of the Kingdom of Georgia; from the 11th to the 13th centuries, the complex reached its height of activity. A Georgian school of painting flourished here and many of the most beautiful frescoes adorning the walls of the Udabno Monastery were painted during this time.
However, David Gareja is like a phoenix that continues to rise from its own ashes; even after the Mongol invasions, the Arab invasions, and ultimately the Soviet-era shutdown of the complex, the spiritual flame burning at the heart of the monastery has not been extinguished.
Visitors from all over Georgia and the wider region view David Gareja as a pilgrimage site. It is even said that three visits to the complex are equal to one pilgrimage to Jerusalem. What more reason could you need to return to Georgia for a second (or third) look at its natural beauty and breathtaking churches and monasteries?
(Top Photo: Devin Connolly ascending to the upper Udabno Monastery at David Gareja)
PUBLISHED: March 19, 2015