This day is dedicated to Southern Georgia. The city of Akhaltsikhe, the monastery of Safar We will visit the town of Vardzia, which is considered as a jewel of the queen of Tamara. Millions of stars always shine above the incredible high-altitude largest in Georgia Lake Paravan, where it is still cold and still beautiful. It was an incredible adventure!
The name of the city of Akhaltsikhe is translated as "new Fortress." It stands on the river Tszali - a tributary of Kura, which explains its ancient trade and strategic importance. From here opens the way south to Turkey.
The fortress was built in the 12th century by the atabek rulers of the Meskhetian family of Jakeli. Atabeg or Ata Bei is the Turkic words denoting Ata - father and bey - ruler. So-called the Seljuks of the local rulers, who were regents. The Turks captured the city in 1579 and 1628 made the county capital. Like any vast empire, the Turkish rulers resettled the peoples and many Armenians, Azerbaijanis and the Jewish community appeared in Akhaltsikhe. The Meskhetian (Georgian) population was a minority.
After the alliance between Georgia and Russia in 1810, Russian troops made the first attempt to return Akhaltsikhe to Georgia, and in fact to strengthen their positions in the conflict with Turkey. This attempt was not successful, and the retreating Russian troops stopped in Borjomi, where they found a healing source. Only in 1828 Akhaltsikhe was captured by Russia and thus returned to Georgia.
Rabati Fortress is a fortress built by the Turks. Many Armenians had lived here since the days when the Turks pursued a policy of resettlement of peoples. Charles Aznavour was born here. We're on a mountain facing Turkey border. The kingdom of Bagrations did not spread to the territory of South Georgia. Some local feudal lords ran these places. On these mountains, there was developed terrace farming, and we will see vineyards in the hills on the way to Vardzia. The Georgian nation consists of several tribes. As mentioned by The Meskh (founders of The Mzkhets), it is the largest and oldest tribe. Any surname ending in the "dze" is from the Meskhs. Everyone else is shvili."
The fortress was restored or, rather, rebuilt by Mikheil Saakashvili. Today it is a new tourist destination.
Borzhomi-Haragaul Reserve. The largest in Europe. Behind the snowy mountains, Turkey is.
The earliest church on this place is called Ouspenskaya, and it had served during the reign of the Russian Empire. It is a small church with a sloping stone roof. She was built in the 10th century, and it is not known who made it.
At the end of the 13th century, Akhaltsk atabeg almost independently controlled these places. The ruler of Akhaltsikhe Sargis Jaeli became a monk, took the name Sava and began to live in this monastery. His son Beck built a temple here and expanded the monastery. Beka ruled a vast territory from Erzurum (today eastern Turkey) to Adjara (Batumi and Kobuleti). This temple was named Saint Sava.
We come from the Rabat fortress. Beka Yakeli, the ruler of Rabat, built this monastery in honor of his father. The murals tell about it. They depict three people, and one of them is holding a model of the temple. This is Beka. Next to him, his father - the monk Sawa and the third image - the architect of the temple. This is the only church in Georgia that has been preserved to this day from the 13th century without any changes in restorations and reconstructions.
Even though for many centuries the city of Akhaltsikhe and the monastery of Safar was under Turkish rule, the frescoes in the monastery were not destroyed. Faces were not smeared or knocked down. This probably happened because the Turkish (Muslim) rulers came from the same ancient family of Jaqeli and did not want to spoil the heritage of their ancestors. It is noteworthy that the roof of all buildings is made of massive stone slabs. It hasn't been changed for seven centuries.
These are Monks' cells and workspaces. Here the path to the water spring rises.
In Soviet times, the monastery was empty. The road was not led here, and all the buildings were abandoned.
On the opposite bank of The Kura rises Mount Erusheti. (The bear). Its entire slope is strewn with numerous caves - it is an ancient cliff dwelling fortress of Vardzia. There are many cliff towns in Georgia, but the urban scale and beauty of Vardzia are breathtaking. Here along the Kura river runs the way to the south. It is a trade and military road. The presence of a fortress here was necessary.
Vardzia is on a cliff that you can climb or reach by shuttle bus from this point. The bus runs as the groups arrive. The best way to get the start point of exploring Vardzia is by bus. I recommend you to save the forces for climbing the cliff dwellings itself, which are a maze of passages and terraces rising and descending in the rock. Vardzia has about six hundred rooms and is a multi-level system with a total height with an eight-story house.
From this viewpoint, you can see the gorge of the Kura River, which goes south. It is a vital trade route to central Turkey, and even furthermore to Persia, but it is also the "Gate of Threat" because from there can come invaders. Vardzia was built during the golden age in the history of Georgia when the country was liberated from Arab conquest in the tenth century to the Mongol invasion in the thirteenth century.
Even though the threat was expected from the outside, the real danger threatened King George the third from home. George the third was the grandson of the famous king David the Builder. George ruled in the twelfth century after inheriting a large and powerful kingdom that stretched from the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea. A conspiracy was conspired against him by the commander-in-chief of the Orbeli family. Orbeli brought Demna, a minor prince, to ascend the throne. George broke the conspirators, the entire genus of Orbeli was cut out, and the prince was killed. But there is a legend that Demna survived, called himself Shota from Rustavi (Rustaveli) and fell in love with George's daughter - Tamara. The famous queen Tamara. He dedicated the poem The Knight in the Panther's Skin to her - the plot of this work is reminiscent of the historical figures of George the Third and the queen Tamara.
After King George broked the conspiracy and suppressed the rebels who joined him, he set about bringing order. He began the construction of an impregnable city and called it Vardzia. Tradition says that when George, his brother (Tamara's uncle) and Tamara visited these places. Tamara was lost. She was screaming Acavardsia. Aka means here, vardsia means an uncle. It is how the name was born: Vardsia. George had no sons and understood that only a daughter Tamara can inherit him. By this reason, he crowned her to the throne in his lifetime. By having ruled together, he teaches her daughter all the state wisdom. This beautiful structure is the principal city gate.
Niches and a small recess in the center of the room exist in most dwellings carved in the cliff. They say that this deepening was a stove. This hypothesis is not acceptable by all the researchers because there are no traces of soot and charring. Maybe they were intended for other purposes. The internal water source supplied the city.
The central church of Vardzia. Ancient murals come to the present day almost unchanged. One of them shows the queen, Tamara. This picture is one of the three images of the queen that have survived to this day. After George's death, Tamara ordered to build the church, abolished the death penalty and established a council of feudal lords - something like parliament. Many believe that from this time, monks begin to settle in Vardzia. Tamara meets a personal tragedy when she breaks up with her husband Gregory, and he raises against her with the lords of Western Georgia. The battle took place near Vardzia, and Tamara won. Since then, the city has become the monastic dwellings with the central Assumption Church. This church became the main temple of the entire region, and the icon of the Virgin Mary from Vardzia became a patron of queen Tamara.
Behind the Church of Assumption, a narrow passage leads to the hidden water source. He fed with water the whole city leading it with the help of a sophisticated system of aqueducts. It also stored stocks of grain, wine, and oil. The underground passage led to the northern part of the city. So, monks and warriors could suddenly appear in different parts of the fortress literally "from the underground."
People continued to build and develop Vardzia during the reign of Bec Jakeli of Akhaltsikhe, the one who built the Safara Monastery. But the earthquake of 1285 put an end to the greatness and glory of Vardzia. The entire outer part of the rock collapsed and proudly cut Vardzia in two. The deeper part remained unbroken, and the outer one turned into ruins. What we see today is the result of this great earthquake.
The half-destroyed city became the prey of the invaders — first the Mongols and then the Turks. The Turks burned the surviving monks in the Church of Assumption. The sop that covered the walls hid the frescoes. So, the ancient life-long images of Tamara have survived to this day. For centuries, there was no one in these caves except the shepherds.
We went down to the river. It's the famous Kura River. In 1828 Russian troops captured Akhaltsikhe and thus dislodged the Turks from South Georgia. Russians restored the temple of Assumption, and monks began to return to Vardzia. In Soviet times, it was a closed military zone on the Turkish border.
We have climbed the high plateau of South Georgia. His height rises more than 2000 meters above sea level. The main population here is Armenians. Many of the locals don't even speak Georgian. It was quite amusing to listen to our tour guide Nukri communicate with a local Armenian in the Russian language. For these places, Russian is still the language of international communication. Nonicminda is a city founded by the Russian empire under the name Bogdanovka. After the regime of Catherine, the second Pneumatomachi (spirit-wrestlers) were exiled to this area. They searched for the purity of spirit and rejection of the shackles of the church cult. In times of Caterina, the second they were not hurt, but after her death, they were settled in the close vicinity to the hostile Turkish border.
On this plateau, the temperature drops to minus 35 in winter. Constant winds make this place even more severe. Georgians call to this place the Siberia of Georgia. Imagine how beautiful and very different is Georgia. Scarthvelo gaumarjos!
This lake is the largest in Georgia. It is not deep; its average depth is about two and a half meters. One of the most massive burial mounds of the early bronze period (around 12th century BC) was found at the lake's floor. We stayed for dinner in an Armenian restaurant. It was a normative house where the simple rustic food we were happy about. As an only main dish was fried fish from the lake, kebab, chacha, and the most delicious fried potatoes. The rustic Georgians - Armenian gags made the dinner. Listen to this conversation: "Do you know what is the difference between Armenians and Georgians? The Georgians will never run out of chacha, but here in Armenian taverna only one shot has done and you have nothing to drink! - Ah, why are you afraid, dear! Are you leaving now?
We got to the hotel late at night. It is two hours from the lake to Tbilisi. But! No one knew that asphalt was removed from the road. We drove for four hours. But it was the most fun road in my life. With happy songs as endless stars scattering on the sky, cheerful and good friends with the driver Malhaz and Nukri - the ever best guide.