The land of Samtskhe-Javakheti. Walking around this land requires some knowledge and a very strong curiosity, as the result you will be rewarded with an excellent experience. You need to know that it is the region of Georgia, it is located in the southeast of the country, but climate here is quite rigorous: in summer the weather is dry and in winter the temperature can be up to -40 C. This land is considered to be risky concerning agriculture: mainly vegetables are grown, particularly potatoes. There are no vineyards, but the wine is served, and always with a bottle of mineral water Borjomi!
There are a lot of interesting historical places on the territory of Samtskhe-Javakheti. There are about 50 churches and monasteries and 12 fortresses: Abuli, the fortress of Akhaltsikhe, Atskuri, Chobishevi, Hertvisi, Kohtas, Melnis, Mohsevis, Okros, Saro, Tmogvi and Zanavi. There are many ruins and remains of fortresses: khachkars (cross-stones), vishaps (pagan stones of ritual significance). Many attractions are built in remote places, so you have to walk a lot to reach them.
I’ll tell you about famous, but not very hyped-up places. The jewel in the crown of the Georgian attractions is the cave city of Vardzia. It is situated 70 miles south from the town of Borjomi, about 150 kilometers from Tbilisi, 18 km from the town of Akhalkalaki, which is located almost on the border with Turkey. Vardzia is a monument of Georgian rocky architecture of XII — XIII centuries. It was built in the valley of the Kura River (Mtkvari), which took place along the ancient trade route. The fortress was to defend the southern borders of Georgia.
The city-monastery’s name is associated with a legend: the little daughter of King George III, the future Queen Tamar, was playing in the caves of the unfinished monastery. Her uncle lost sight of her in the labyrinth of caves and began to call. Tamar shouted «I’m here, uncle!» (in Georgian “Ak var dzia!”), so the king’s father made this exclamation the name of the fortress.
Vardzia consists of rock caves linked together with tunnels and stairs. Just imagine: the size of a fortress along the cliffs is 800 meters, in depth — 50 meters and a height is 8 storeys! Outside the fort was not visible, and the warriors could descend into a valley through the secret passages, completely invisible to the enemy. Christian monastery was built inside. In the centre of the monastery there is church of Mary. Frescoes of the XII century preserved on the walls of the monastery: the image of the Virgin and Child in hand, surrounded by archangels, the image of evangelical scenes. King George III and Queen Tamar “meet” the visitors at the entrance to the monastery on the south side. On the images of frescoes they are represented in Byzantine robes, their heads surrounded by halos and they wear the crowns. There are more than 600 rooms, including 15 churches, the throne hall, halls for special occasions, living cells, refectory, baths, pantries, pharmacies, libraries and many other cave areas in the fortress of Vardzia. According to different sources, from 20 to 50 thousand people could find shelter in the fortress during the attack. There was a large stock of food in this case. In order to provide people with water from the village of Zeda to Vardzia there was laid water supply system (length is 3,5 km), which still function. Also system of wells were built, which are well-preserved even nowadays. Vardzia monastery played a significant cultural role for the country. Literary and artistic activity was popular here. According to Georgian and foreign sources, the monastery was very rich: church utensils were made of silver and gold, icons and crosses were decorated with precious stones. The system of irrigation of agricultural fields, located on the mountain terraces, provided with food not only the monastery. Queen Tamar often came here to pray, she even had her own apartment. The monastery was a male, so an exception was made for the Queen.
In 1193-1195 during the war against the Seljuk Turks, Queen Tamar was with his court in Vardzia. In general, for those who study history, it is no secret that the statement: “oriental women were powerless” is not true. Outstanding women had an influence not only on their men, but they also changed the course of history. Queen Tamar is definitely one of such women. There is supposition that the Queen was buried in Vardzia. 8 funeral processions from Tbilisi were sent to different parts of the world, one of them came to Vardzia. Thus they managed to conceal the true burial place of Queen Tamar. In 1283 the earthquake happened on this territory and the seam of about 15 meters broke off from the cliff. The monastery could not serve as a fortress no more. Numerous seizures and the devastation of the Mongol invasions in the XIII century, the Shah of Iran Tahmasp, brutal Turkish massacres have led to destruction. In 1828 the Javakheti area was liberated by Russian troops, and Vardzia found calm.
However, Soviet period also did not contribute to the revival of the monastery. It is said that nowadays about 15 novices live in Vardzia, so the male monastery is functioning.
In 1938 Vardzia was declared a museum-reserve. Nowadays it still has this status. Archaeological researches of the complex may still be a surprise, for example, in 2007 archaeologists have found well camouflaged shelter, intended to save the monks and members of the royal family during the enemy attack.
We continue our walks next time! And now let’s cook such a yummy traditional dish of Caucasian cuisine.
Soak and squeeze bread. Mince meat using meat grinder with a large grille. Make minced meat: mix the bread and meat, add garlic, egg, salt and cinnamon. Form a sausage-thick as a finger and fry them in vegetable oil or mutton fat. 0,5 kg mutton, a piece of white bread, 2 eggs, garlic to taste (1 clove), cinnamon 1 / 3 tsp, salt.