In Southern Georgia near the Armenian border, at 10,200 feet above sea level, 3,000 caves were carved out of the soft tuff and occupied under King Giorgi III (1156–84) as a stronghold against the Turks. Vardzia was completed, however, by Giorgi’s daughter, Queen Tamara, who transformed the complex into a monastic center. Over time, earthquakes have altered the layout of the 3,000 caves and corridors that existed in Tamara’s time. In the 559 caves that remain, frescoes can be found that represent the pinnacle of the Golden Age of Georgian painting; among these are portraits of King Giorgi and Queen Tamara. A tour includes hiking through the rock-cut town.
PUBLISHED: July 19, 2013