Established by King Giorgi III in the 12th century as a stronghold against the Turkish Sultanate, Vardzia was subsequently developed by his daughter, Tamar, who created a cave monastery that became a center of Georgian culture. This network of caves above the Mtkvari river is rumored to have once numbered 3,000, with up to 19 tiers in some places. Much of it was destroyed after a huge earthquake in 1456 and only 550 caves have been discovered spread over 13 tiers. There are numerous churches, meeting halls, refectories and wine cellars, all interconnected by tunnels and stairways.
Photos taken June 2010.