The cave city of Vardzia (Georgian: ვარძია) is a cave monastery dug into the side of the Erusheli mountain in southern Georgia near Aspindza on the left bank of the Mtkvari River. It was founded by Queen Tamar in 1185.
The monastery was constructed as protection from the Mongols. and 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. The only access to the complex was through some well hidden tunnels near the Mtkvari river.
An earthquake in Samtskhe destroyed approximately two thirds of the city in 1283, exposing the caves to outside view and collapsing the irrigation system.
The church was reinforced and an externally visible bell tower added during the reign of Beka Jakheli in the thirteenth century.
Persians commanded by Shah Tahmasp I raided the monastery in 1551, capturing all important icons and effectively ending the life of the monastery.
The cave city