The ancient cave city of Vardzia - Journal of Nomads

Vardzia – the ancient Cave City of Georgia

Vardzia is a spectacular cave monastery near Aspindza in southern Georgia. It looks like one of the movie sets of Lord of the Rings, but it is not the home of dwarfs but of many monks. This underground monastery was built in the 12th Century, under the reign of King Tamar, the first woman that was ever crowned as a king (not a queen!) in Georgian history.


The ancient cave city of Vardzia - Journal of Nomads


In the late 1100’s the medieval kingdom of Georgia was constantly under threat of the Mongol Empire. To help her people avoid the Mongol onslaught, Tamar ordered the construction of an underground sanctuary and secretly they started building this fortress under the Erusheli mountain. It was a gigantic job but the people worked hard with the determination that their culture and lifestyle should not be destroyed by the invading Mongols.


The ancient cave city of Vardzia - Journal of Nomads


This underground fortress eventually had 13 levels constructed with natural caves and contained over 6000 rooms, including a throne room, a reception chamber, a meeting room, a bakery, a forge, chapels and a huge church. The only way to get to this underground city was through a secret tunnel which started at the nearby Mtkvari River.


The ancient cave city of Vardzia - Journal of Nomads


You might wonder how they survived here. The land on the outside of the hidden monastery was extremely fertile. The monks created a self-sustainable lifestyle by creating an irrigation system of terraced farmlands so they could produced their own food. Some tunnels had irrigation pipes that still bring drinkable water. They weren’t short on wine either because the cave city had about 25 wine cellars containing 185 wine jars.


The ancient cave city of Vardzia - Journal of Nomads


Sadly enough the glorious days of Vardzia didn’t last very long. It kept the Georgians safe from the Mongols but mother nature is unbeatable. In 1283, only 100 years after its construction, a devastating earthquake literally ripped the place apart and destroyed more than two-thirds of the city and the remaining caves that were once hidden became visible.


The ancient cave city of Vardzia - Journal of Nomads


To finish the (hi)story of Vardzia, here’s the myth of how it got its name: one day Tamar went out hunting with her uncle Giorgi and got lost in the caves. When Giorgi called out to her, she replied “ac var dzia”, which is Georgian for “I’m here uncle”.


The ancient cave city of Vardzia - Journal of Nomads


It was an awesome experience to be there in winter. Vardzia looked so beautiful wearing its coat of snow! Despite the freezing cold, it was worth the visit! Especially since there was almost no-one around, except for a few locals who visited the church to pray.


The ancient cave city of Vardzia - Journal of Nomads


The ancient cave city of Vardzia - Journal of Nomads


Our visit was extra special as we were being followed by the film crew of the Georgian TV station Rustavi 2, who were making a documentary about our journey! While we were walking through the labyrinth of caves, all Niko and I could think about was how tiny the people must have been to crawl through this network of tunnels, guided by the light of candles. If not, they must often have had back pains. Even our camera man was struggling to follow us and we often had to take a break to let him catch his breath!


The ancient cave city of Vardzia - Journal of Nomads


The ancient cave city of Vardzia - Journal of Nomads


The ancient cave city of Vardzia - Journal of Nomads



Don’t forget to bring some chewing gum with you when you visit Vardzia. There is a special ‘bubble gum tree’ where people make a wish and stick their chewing gum to the tree.


The ancient cave city of Vardzia - Journal of Nomads


The ancient cave city of Vardzia - Journal of Nomads


The more time we spend in Georgia, the more we get to know about the history and traditions. For every place we visit, there is always an interesting story or legend to be told!


The ancient cave city of Vardzia - Journal of Nomads






  • Everything you need to know about traveling independently in Georgia (visa, how to get to and around Georgia, where to stay,…):

The Ultimate Travel Guide to Backpacking in Georgia


  • Plan your trip to Georgia:

The best of Georgia in 15 days – 3 complete Travel Itineraries 


  • Georgia travel costs:

Georgia on a budget – How much does it cost to travel to Georgia 


  • Hiking in Georgia:

7 Beautiful off-the-beaten-path Hikes


  • Skiing in Georgia:

Everything you need to know about skiing in Georgia


  • Hitchhiking in Georgia:

Hitchhiking in Georgia – the good, the bad and the untold stories


  • Our Georgian city guides:

Top Things to Do in Batumi – Our Guide to a Perfect Stay

Top Things to Do in Tbilisi – Our Guide to a Fantastic Time in Tbilisi




24 thoughts on “Vardzia – the ancient Cave City of Georgia”

  1. Pingback: The Complete Road Trip Guide to Georgia (the Country!) - The Wanderlust Kitchen

  2. InSearchOfLostPlaces

    This looks amazing, we are looking forward to seeing it soon. have they finished making the documentary about your journey? Ben and Amrita

    1. Hi Ben and Amrita!
      When will you be in Georgia? You’ll definitely find a lot of ‘Lost Places’ here!! 🙂
      Yes, the documentary was shown on the Georgian Television. We got a copy of it now and will look to upload 🙂

      1. InSearchOfLostPlaces

        Looking forward to the upload. We just left Georgia yesterday unfortunately. Now enjoying Armenia though…

    1. The snow made it look very magical but even without its white coat, Vardzia is pretty impressive 🙂 You should definitely visit it!! We didn’t have to pay any entrance as we were with the film crew but the entrance fees in Georgia are very cheap: between 5 and 10 lari (which is maximum 4 euros 😉 ). I think Vardzia was 7 lari, but not sure.

  3. It looks so interesting! I can’t believe it actually had 13floors and 6000 rooms. It just sounds so crazy. I hope to visit it sometime.

    1. We had never heard of it either before we came here. Vardzia is definitely unique!! Georgia has been a target of many empires and kingdoms but they were able to maintain their culture and traditions, thanks to the mountains. By the time the invaders found them, they were too exhausted and cold for a proper fight 😀

  4. Never heard about this place, looks awesome and because of you is already on my list when I go to Georgia next year. The pictures are amazing!!

      1. Not a great plan yet, I will meet my friends in Tiblisi, they are from there. After it we will go to hiking and camping in some mountains and valleys that they know 🙂

  5. I spent last summer in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. Unfortunately, due to the busy schedule, I didn’t have a chance to visit Vardzia. I was that close to going there, but something always got in a way. Looking at your photos makes it even sadder. Well, at least I could read about what I missed. Happy travels and thank you for sharing!

      1. I stayed in Tbilisi for 4 months. I wholeheartedly think that Georgia is a great place to visit. There are so many amazing things there: different culture and traditions; delicious local food and wines; interesting architecture and historical sites, you name it. A vacation or a 2-3 weeks trip throughout the country would be the perfect experience. Living there for extended periods of time is a different story. There are pollution issues, water quality, western-quality medical care is available in Tbilisi and it still a stretch… I am glad that I experienced the truly local way of living in Tbilisi. It was an ultimate learning experience.

        1. We’ve been living in Georgia for six months now and we can definitely agree with you! It’s a great country for a trip, whether you like hiking during the summer or skiing during the winter. We loved Tbilisi – stayed there for 5 months – and we didn’t only see the beauty of it but also the poverty. This is even more visible in the little villages. The Georgians are trying to get back on their feet but yes, a lot needs to change in terms of social well-fare! Hopefully this will improve very soon!

  6. Have y’all been to Matera, Italy? That’s an amazing cave city destination. I’ve seen such cave dwellings in Greece (Meteora and Santorini). Really interesting post and interesting to learn how the land was quite fertile. Seems like it would be a cold winter though!

    1. It’s definitely cold in winter 😀 Don’t know how the people used to live in this cold, I guess the caves must have kept them warm! We also visited Meteora, was also a very stunning place. We’ve never been to Matera, never heard of it actually, will look it up. Thanks for the tip!

    1. Not many people consider Georgia as a travel destination, it’s still an off-the-beaten-path place. It’s a stunning place, both in winter (perfect for winter sports and super cheap) and summer, if you like hiking!

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