Ellen Lloyd - AncientPages.com - The only way to get to this spectacular and huge underground city was via well-hidden tunnels which started at the nearby Mtkvari river.
The cave city of Vardzia is a monastery complex dug into the side of the Erusheli Mountain in southern Georgia near Aspindza.
Five monks still live in this mountain. Every morning at seven they ring the bell in the high arch. Image credit: ben van der ploeg - CC BY 2.0
Founded in 1185 by Queen Tamar it served as a protection of the fearsome and brutal Mongols who slaughtered people at the time.
Queen Tamar who was crowned “King” was the most famous woman in Georgian history
Queen Tamara (1169-1212), who reigned from 1184 to 1212 ruled over the largest territory ever to come under the control of Georgia; during her reign, the kingdom stretched from Azerbaijan, north of present-day Iran, to the borders of Cherkessia, in the North Caucasus.
The prosperity of Georgia to the Board - Queen Tamar. Image credit: Caucasuspress - CC BY-SA 4.0
Queen Tamar was enthroned as ruler of Georgia at the age of eighteen. She was called “King” because her father had no male heir and so she ruled as a monarch and not as a consort.
Tamar was married twice, her first union being, from 1185 to 1187, to the Rus' prince Yuri, whom she divorced and expelled from the country, defeating his subsequent attempts at a coup. For her second consort, Tamar chose, in 1191, the Alan prince David Soslan, by whom she had two children, George and Rusudan, the two successive monarchs on the throne of Georgia.
Tamar's association with the period of political and military successes and cultural achievements, combined with her role as a female ruler, has led to her idealization and romanticization in Georgian arts and historical memory. She remains an important symbol in Georgian popular culture and has been canonized by the Georgian Orthodox Church as the Holy Righteous King Tamar.
The huge cave monastery complex
The Vardzia monastery consisted of over six thousand apartments in a thirteen-story complex. The city included a church, a throne room, and a complex irrigation system watering terraced farmlands. A complex irrigation system watering terraced farmlands was also constructed and in some tunnels, the old irrigation pipes still bring drinkable water.
Image credit: GeorgiaAbout.com
The glorious days of Vardzia did not last for very long. This magnificent place was never destroyed by the Mongols, but Mother Nature was not kind to the caves. Less than one hundred years after the Vardzia monastery was built a powerful earthquake in 1283 caused two-thirds of the cave system to collapse.
Despite this disaster, the monastery continued until 1551 but was then attacked and pillaged by the Persian Sash Tahmasp who killed all of the monks. It was then that Vardzia was finally abandoned.
In modern days, the monastery is maintained by a small group of zealous monks and there is a growing desire to save this significant and beautiful place.
The monastery can be visited by tourists for a small fee, but if you go there make sure you don’t suffer from claustrophobia because the narrow tunnels and confined spaces might make the visit an uncomfortable experience.
Written by - Ellen Lloyd – AncientPages.com
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