On day 3 we drove to Akhaltsikhe. Why? Akhaltsikhe is the perfect location to explore the Samtskhe- Javakheti Region. The hotel was not the best one but as soon as you do not have any expectations it won't bother you anymore. We arrived in Akhaltsikhe late in the evening. Akhaltsikhe is a tiny city and it is famous because of Rabati Castle.
A wonderful walk to the Rabati Castle and a lovely dinner made the perfect end of day 3.
Akhaltsikhe Fortress (Rabati Castle)
- the 18th-century fortress and is often called the symbol of tolerance. I think it would be fair to stress the importance of Poland in the renovation of the Castle. The Castle occupies around 7 hectares and has recently been restored to its original appearance. A church, a mosque, a minaret, a synagogue, Jaqelebi Palace, the historic museum, old baths, and a citadel, have been restored on the territory of Rabat Castle. The museum located in the castle accommodates rare and well preserved archeological and ethnographical materials, old manuscripts detailing the stories of the region including a fragment of the manuscript of “The Knight in the Panther’s Skin,” Georgia’s most famous poem, consisting of over 1600 verses and written in the 12th century at the Royal Court of Queen Tamar of Georgia. The castle still smells with the fresh paint and recent construction, but it is nice to walk around and is beautifully illuminated at night.
The next morning we went to Abastumani - a small town located about 30km from Akhaltsikhe in the valley of the Otskhe river. The first settlement appeared at the beginning of the mid-nineteenth century and got the name Abbas-Tuman after a nearby located village. Soon it became very popular for its climate and thermal waters. Abastumani's development as a resort is mainly associated with Grand Duke George Alexandrovich Romanov, a member of the Russian imperial family, who had retired there due to his weak-health.
Nowadays, Abastumain is popular among tourists because of its hyperthermic springs rich in sulfate-sodium chloride waters. The place has been long renown for treatment of tuberculosis due to its climate and hot springs. Another tourist attraction in Abastumani is Astrophysical Observatory which was opened in 1932 (1700 m. above the sea level). The observatory is located far from inhabited places and pollution. This makes Observatory a great place for sky observing. Abastumani is also a starting point for hikes into the National Park.
Do not forget about Vardzia. Vardzia is amazing!
Vardzia complex - is one of the must-sees of Georgia. This rock-cut monastery is a very impressive cultural and architectural monument. It is in one-hour drive south-east from Akhaltsikhe, located on the left bank of the Mtkvari River. The caves carved from the rocks of Erusheti Mountain and they stretch for about 500 meters along the cliff and up to 19 levels. The caves are connected by a complex system of tunnels. Vardzia was established by King George III. The main construction period was under the king and later under his daughter's (Tamar) during the second half of the 12th century. At that time the town grew very quickly and encompassed more than 3,000 caves that could accommodate 50,000 people at a time. Vardzia complex had living quarters, refectories, barns, wine cellars (Marani), stables, drugstores, and even libraries. The town also had an aqueduct and underground sewer system. The heavy earthquake destroyed Vardzia in 1283, and later the cave town was rebuilt. The only survived part of the town till our times is the two-story bell tower, that forms kind of entrance to the complex.
The place was devastated and abandoned after the Ottoman takeover in the middle of the 16th century. Nowadays it is again functioning as a monastery. The main temple of the monastery is the Church of Dormition (sometimes referred to as Church of the Assumption) dating back to the 12th century. The church was carved out of single rock but later was rebuilt from stones. Initially, it had a chapel attached from the west, but it was partially destroyed by the earthquake. The paintings inside the church represent the finest examples of murals of the times. Apart from religious scenes, one can see portraits of historical figures there: the founder - King George III, his daughter Queen Tamar and a local nobleman Rati Surameli. There is a nice legend about how the site got its name. King George came here hunting taking Tamar with him. She went exploring the place and got lost.
He started calling her and she replied: "აქ ვარ ძია" [ak var dzia], meaning "I am here, uncle". Yes, I also wonder, why she would call her father "uncle", but I guess this is the part of the legend... While visiting Vardzia, it is also worth making a stop by to Vardzia Nunnery, which is a few kilometers further along the same road. It is a nice, quiet place, with a small church in a garden and very friendly nuns living around.
Vanis Kvabebi (Vani's Caves)
We have also visited Vanis Kvabebi (Vani's Caves) which is not far from the Vatdzia Complex.
Vanis Kvabebi (Vani's Caves) - is a cave monastery not far from Aspindza town and another (more famous) cave city of Vardzia. It consists of about 200 caves built into the rocky cliffs and rises over 16 levels. The complex dates to the 8th century and consists of a defensive wall built in 1204 and a maze of tunnels running on several levels along the mountainside. There are two churches at the territory of the monastery. The newer one stands near the top of the wall and is in quite a good condition. A smaller, domed church built into the rock of the highest tunnels. Here one can find scripts of the original Mkhedruli alphabet that belongs to the 15th century.
Now it is time to go to Kutaisi, Imereti Region!
On the way to Kutaisi do not miss a Green Monastery.
Have you ever heard about "Green Monastery"?
This place is rarely mentioned. You can hardly find any description or image of this Monastery. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a hoper, a prayer or a magic-bean-buyer, visit this place. Green Monastery, officially known as Chitakhevi St. George Monastery, is an IX century friary located in the village of the same name, in the Borjomi municipality. According to historians and archeologists, it was built by Christopher and Tevdore, students of St. Grigol Khandtstheli, a very influential figure in Georgian history. We discovered this place during our 7 days tour around Georgia. We were impressed not by the Monastery but by the forest surrounding the Monastery. Mosses make the thick, soft carpet on the forest floor. Everybody has a special place, especially as a child. This is my special place. When walking to the Monastery you go through Magic Forest. A gurgling Creek with sunlight shimmering off the water inviting you to go into this magical spot. When you step through the trees, all you can see is green. The whole ground is covered in grass and mosses. Take a look....