Georgia has a great tourist future! There are a lot of architectural and historical monuments situated on its territory, but not all are ready to receive today’s tourists. The absence of comfortable conditions of sightseeing is due to very uncomfortable positions of masterpieces — in Georgia the buildings are constructed in the way that it is hard to reach them! Now little has changed: unpaved trails are high in the mountains, you cannot reach the mountains neither by bus, nor by elevator… So modern Georgians have to solve the problem: how to demonstrate the achievements of their ancestors? But every cloud has a silver lining, the absence of good conditions contributed to the safety of many antiquities. I invite cultural people to see these places until crowds of tourists from all over the world with pockets full of dollars didn’t come and tread dirt on Javakheti highlands.
3 km to the north, almost opposite Vardzia, and 3 kilometers from the village Tmogvi in the valley of the Kura River female cave monastery Vanis Kvabebi is located. Sometimes this place is called Vani’s Caves. The monastery was founded in the VIII century, much earlier than Vardzia. In this monastery there is a plenty of everything. There are 19 levels of caves, 200 grottoes are preserved. There was also a fortified wall, which was built in 1204. The fate of the monastery is similar to the fate of other attractions of the region: damaged during the earthquakes in 1089, 1283 and 1319, was captured by the Persians and then passed into the possession of the Turks, it was looted after the release. The monastery had a very strict statute. Two churches were preserved (one on the bottom and one on the edge of a cliff), the remains of the third church are located inside the caves, in one of the largest rooms. There is a romantic legend about how the monks of Vardzia (the monastery) competed with nuns of Vanis Kvabebi. They dug a tunnel to the River. The women won, because their tunnel was longer. Also the nuns wrote the poem «The Knight in Panther’s Skin» on the walls of the upper church, so they were not only hard-working, but also cultural and romantic women.
The monastery is now abandoned by the state, as well as by the monks, but it is opened to the public. You only need to follow the rules of safety walking in the mountains. Mountains do not like alcohol, inappropriate footwear, clothing and rollicking arrogance. It is almost impossible to get to the top church of Vanis Kvabebi, because you will have to climb the rocky slope, the trail does not have fences, many tunnels are partitioned off. The visit to Vanis Kvabebi is a necessary part of the jeep-tour and for tourists, who go down the river Kura — these guys always want a little bit more adrenaline.
Concerning the river Kura … This river is a kind of attraction and it also an important part of Georgian history, especially the history of southern Georgia, where we are “travelling” now. But Kura is also an international phenomenon, so I will tell you more about it. The Georgian name of Kura is Mtkvari, which in Georgian means «slow.» This name makes me laugh, because the river is not slow especially in Samtskhe-Javakheti. Well, but I think that The Georgian name of Kura is Mt’k’vari (in old Georgian Mt’k’uari), either from Georgian ‘good water’ or a Georgianized form of Megrelian tkvar-ua ‘gnaw’ (i.e., «river that eats its way through the mountains»). The name Kura is likely to have Megrelian root “kur” — «water, river». 390 km of (total length is 1,364 km) river Kura flows through mountainous territory, where it cannot be slow. Gorges and valleys form its wilfulness; numerous tributaries give the full-flowing to it. It flows from the mountains of northern Turkey. It flows to Georgia from the south and 210 km of Georgian land is saturated with the Kura River. After Tbilisi the river becomes wider, the riverbed is divided into branches, steppe part begins. After the waterless steppe of Karayazi, Kura replenishes its water by tributary of Alazani, and then again flows on the steppes. Then Kura crosses rocky ridges of Bozdag and becomes part of an artificial reservoir of Mingachevir. This is the territory of Azerbaijan. The river ends by flowing into the Caspian Sea.
Here are 10 informative facts about the river Kura:
— Kura 4 times crosses the border, and 4 times it plays role of the boundary between different states. 300 km of the river is the border between Turkey and Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkey, Armenia and Iran, and finally, Azerbaijan and Iran.
— Kura is the longest river in Georgia, it flows through 5 countries: Turkey, Iran, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia.
— Kura consists of two main parts: river Kura and its tributary Arax, whose contribution to total runoff is 55% and 45%.
— The supply of Kura is mixed: 36% snow, 30% subterranean, 20% of rain and 14% glacial.
— The largest tributaries of the Kura: Araks, Aragvi, Alazani, Big Liakhvi, Hrami, Ksani, Kvabliani;
— The river is navigable for 480 km from Evlakh to the Caspian Sea.
— Water has a big turbidity;
— Mingachevir Reservoir (part of the Kura river) is the largest reserve of fresh water in Azerbaijan;
— Well-known Georgian composer, lecturer of the Tbilisi Conservatory Alexander Shaverzashvili, praised the river in his symphonic work “Mktvari”
Mktvari is mentioned in the legends. One of the legends associated with the rescue of the Icon of the Virgin. In 1522 Shah Ismail had stolen the Icon from Tbilisi Zion (church in Tbilisi) and threw it in Kura. River washed the Icon ashore, where it was found by the king Leon II of Kakheti. Thanks to the king the Icon had returned to the Cathedral.