Easter is one of the most joyous Christian holidays. Most people associate this holiday with coloured eggs and Easter cakes. I have also associations with visiting the church in early morning, when smiling and friendly father liberally asperses with holy water and there is an extraordinary feeling of joy; with the first barbecue, with the first flowering trees…
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 second object, which must be visited by every tourist, is Khertvisi fortress. This is an incredible antiquity! It stands on a high cliff above the river Kura, where the river Paravani falls into Kura. Here is also furcation of the roads: Akhaltsikhe, Vardzia and Akhalkalaki. The first mentions of the fortress are found in works of ancient authors. This is the best preserved castle of the country and the largest extant. The first structures on this place were built about in the IV century BC. There is a legend that the city was impregnable and only Alexander the Great managed to seize and destroy it. Then history is silent about these places. After that the information appears from the feudal times. In X-XI centuries the revival of the settlement began. In 985 a church was built inside the fortress. Active construction has led to formation of the whole city. Firstly forays of the Mongols destroyed it. in 1283 the earthquake also caused enormous harm. It is believed that only the main tower remained safe. Desolation reigned in this place for almost 100 years. And only in 1354-1356 the treasurer of George V Zachary Kamkamishvili began to restore and enlarge the fortress. This is the place for Meskhetia rulers. In XVI century the southern region of Georgia was captured by the Turks. During the next 3 centuries Khertvisi belonged to them. In 1828 during the Russian-Turkish war, the region was conquered and returned to Georgia.
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.