Vardzia is the marvelous piece of Georgian medieval culture. It is situated in a deep canyop of river Mtkvari in 30 kl. From Aspindza. It occupies 500 meters of 100 meters high Erusheti rocky mountain.
Monastery of Vardzia consists of 13 floors. It is cut out in a middle brown layer of three coloured rock. The upper dark grey layers used as a roof. Living rooms and storerooms accupy the part of the rocks, from South to North. So they are well provided with light and heat.
According to scientific literature, the disposition of caves in the Monastery is divided in 3 parts. The central part occupies the double arched porch of the southern wall of the church of the Holy Dormition. On the left from it there is a respectiviely small group of caves, located close to one another, between the well-preserved lower floor which is cut out in rocks. Here, under the bell-tower there is a cave, where wine was pressed and one floor lower there is a large refectory.
On the west from the central part, a small rocky village-Ananaury is disposed, which is built earlier, approximately in X-XII centuries. Here are well-preserved terraces for gardens and vineyards, a very interesting two-floored house, a small 10 th. century church with XVI centry wall-painting and frescos, a big tunnel for irrigation and many important storerooms.
On the East from the central part there is a 150 meters long tunnel and another tunnel leading down, which are also well preserved. Here are so-called “chamber of Tamar”, “a throne room”, “a feast hall”, chemist's “chamber”, a small church, a lot of caves used as living-rooms and wine cellars.
The architectural complex of Vardzia originally was of royal purposes.
In August 15, 1185 it was consecrated as the church of the Holy Dorminition. According to historical sources, Giorgi III and Queen Tamar are considered as the builders of Vardzia. The original plan was party changed according to queen Tamar's order: In the central part of the Monastery a large church of the Holy Dormition was cut out in rocks. All the frescos and wall-paintings was made after instructions of some icon-painter George. On the east, up to the canyon Sagalatho, and on the west, up to Ananaury village, the caves were cut out in rocks for laymen and monastics. Here are also different buildings used as hiding places and for irrigation. All the work was completed by 1202. Frescos of Vardzia are very interesting from the point of view of researching the Georgian wall-painting. Besides the Biblical scenes here are also the frescos of St. Tamar, Giorgi III and Rati Surameli.
The Monastery of Vardzia was very important for cultural, educational and political development of Georgia during the period of Queen Tamar's reign (1184-1213). Ioane Shavteli lead his monastic life here in Vardzia, he wrote “The hymns of the Blessed Virgin”. The manuscript of the illustrated Gospel, rewrote in Vardzia is well-preserved.
Starting from the XIII century, when Georgia was under the yoke of Mongolians, the Monastery of Vardzia was under the influence of Samtskhian noblemen-Dchakheli. In 1283 there was a terrible earthquake in Samtskhe, which damaged the caves, the tunnels, leading to the cells of Monastics, the porch of the church and the water-supply system. After that the architectural from of the Monastery absolutely changed. Open paths appeared instead of ruined tunnels and closed passages. Two small, but very important buildings were constructed: one was a double-arched building to strengthen the porch of the church and the other was a two-floored bell tower, adorned with ornaments peculiar to XIII century Georgian architecture. Completion of there works coincides with the period of Bekha Dchhakheli's rulership (1285-1306). A new refectory was built in 1391-1444, during the rulership of governor loane (Sohn).
In 1551 the Monastery of Vardzia was raided by Persians by the order of Shah-Tamaz. The enemy captured the wellknown icon of the Blessrd Virgin, golden and steel gates and many otheny valuables of culture. The Persian historian Hasan-Rumle, who himself participated in this raid and saw Vardzia with his own eyes, retells about its magnificence and wealth with awe, after that Vardzia didn't recover any more.
In 1578 Samtskhe was conquered by Turkey. The Orthodox church was persecuted. In 1595 Vardzia was not populated. The monastery stopped functioning, Consequently, Vardzia was destroyed as a historical monument as well. After the war betveen Turkey and Russia (1828-29), a part of Samtskhe together with Vardzia rejoined the territory of Georgia. But the Monastery didn't become the object of attention any more.
In 1854 a Greek priest George Popondopulos began restoring the Monastery, repaired the path leading to the church and made a simple wooden gate for the altar.
In 1857 Vardzia was consecrated again. One priest and two novices lead their monastic life there. After establishment of the Soviet dictatorial regime in Georgia, the divine service ceased in Vardzia once again.
First in became a tourist center and later in 1938 a museum was established in Vardzia.
Since 1989 by blessing of the Georgian Patriarch his Beatitude Ilia II “the hymns of the Blessed Virgin” are heard in Vardzia again.