Guest post by: Anya Sapharova

It is no surprise that Georgia is a diverse country that in its run can be divided into regions.

Samtskhe-Javakheti, situated in the south of Georgia is really interesting to explore not only from the perspective of a traveler who encounters the extraordinary beauty of the place. Samtskhe-Javakheti is a historical place full of mysteries and legends connected with early Georgian monarchs like Queen Tamar. Lakes hidden in the mountains, dormant volcanoes, and enigmatic forests will not leave you indifferent. On the contrary, people say that they feel an inexplicable burst of energy during their journeys in the mountains of Samtskhe-Javakheti.

When planning your trip to Samtskhe-Javakheti don’t forget to visit Borjomi first. This small town is a picturesque resort which is close to Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park. If you decide to stay there for a couple of days don’t miss your chance to take an easy trail in the Park and merge with nature. The entrance to the National Park is free of charge and no matter the season and whether you will enjoy your stay there. It is not highly recommended for the beginners to stay out there in cold seasons or go high in the mountains as lots of things have to be taken care of. Despite being small Borjomi is the perfect spot to get rid of the fuss of big cities even if you rent an apartment in the downtown. You cannot escape from nature – it surrounds you everywhere! Don’t forget to fill your flasks with curative mineral water! That is genuine Borjomi with specific smell and flavor just like any mineral water is supposed to have.

After having spent some days in Borjomi it’s time to move on to face other sites in the vicinity of Samtskhe-Javakheti. Traveling further in the western direction from Borjomi you should definitely visit the Green Monastery (Mtsvane Monastery). It is not so close to the highway and you have to walk a little in order to climb up to the monastery. You won’t regret choosing Green Monastery as your stop because while you are walking to it you start feeling as if you are entering a parallel dimension. The road seems to be like the fairy-tale trail that will lead you to unknown lands full of wizards and sorcerers. To tell you the truth, when entering the green monastery territory you can count you have touched pieces of history as this monastery dates back to 9th-10th centuries. You can find monk cells around the monastery that look like modern cottages. Monks also look after the apiary there.

You might have a question – why is it called Green Monastery? It is apparent that during autumn and winter seasons foliage is not that dense and even if trees keep some of the leaves they are not green anymore. On your way to a car just turn back to look at the Monastery and you will freeze by the mystique of the scenery. The monastery is as if hidden in the forest under the mountains from the extraneous eye.

The next destination is Akhaltsikhe that is 50 km from Green Monastery. You can reach it in 40 minutes the reason to go to Akhaltsikhe is only one – to visit the medieval fortress complex that dates back to 13th century. The castle itself is newly renovated and combines impacts of different cultures. You can find an orthodox church, mosque, synagogue, and minaret on its territory.

The fortress itself had a mission to protect lands of Georgia from Turkish invasion. Georgians were able to hold the onslaught from the enemy for 3 centuries but the picture had changed a lot when in 16th century Georgians were forced to surrender the fortress. That’s why Rabati complex combines echoes from different cultures.

The fortress was a very developed and advanced center of culture back in medieval times. You could find not only churches but Supreme Court, sulfur baths, and a bank that was more known as a monetary court. After falling in the hands of Turkish Empire it was decided to build a big mosque in the center of the fortress. It was built after Constantinopolis Ayasofya mosque.

Despite being controlled by Turkish sultans Akhaltsikhe was a very tolerant city where one could find not only Georgians and Turks but Russians, Armenians and Jewish settlers as well.

There are lots of complaints though that after renovation the fortress has lost its face and became a mere shadow of what it used to look like. They say it looks too modern because of the materials as the feeling of ancient times has as if disappeared from the fortress.

From one hand, they have a point but from another hand, it would be impossible to visit the place without renovating it as it was in really bad and unsightly condition.

After having walked in Rabati get ready to travel to another destination known as Vardzia – huge rock complex famous for its caves. Once it used to be the summer residence of the well-known and eminent Georgian monarch Queen Tamar. Actually, that is thanks to her that the complex has got its name. According to the legend, Queen Tamar being small got lost while playing somewhere in the huge complex. Her uncle was worried and was calling her when suddenly he heard the girl shouting back ‘Var, dzia!’ which literally means ‘I’m here uncle’. This story dates back to the 12th century.

The excavations show though that Vardzia was inhabited even during the Bronze Age.  You will be taken on a giddy adventure through the underground tunnels and numerous caves that once represented King’s Quarters, meeting halls and private rooms of the royal family members. You can also find bell tower, wine cellars, pharmacy and many cave dwellings throughout the complex.  Due to its uniqueness, Vardzia has been submitted for future inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage List as a Cultural Site.  

Map & Itineary

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