Cave monastery in the Erusheti mountain.

Cave – palace – monastery was built by Georgians in the Caucasus for their fabled queen Tamar.

In the late 1100s the medieval kingdom of Georgia was resisting the onslaught of the Mongol hordes. Queen Tamar ordered the construction of this underground sanctuary in 1185.

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 with an external bell tower.

Five monks still live in this mountain and every morning at seven they ring the bell.

The monks created a self-sustainable lifestyle by creating an irrigation system of terraced farmlands so they could produced their own food.

In 1283, only a century after its construction, a devastating earthquake literally ripped the place apart. The quake shattered the mountain slope and destroyed more than two-thirds of the city, exposing the hidden innards of the remainder.

Myth of Vardzia 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”.

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