• Michael Knock

Azerbaijan & Georgia - 20 Day Explorer (Virtual Tour) - Day 10

We were due to be heading to Aerbaijan & Georgia @ this time of year, however, COVID-19 restrictions have required us to suspend all tours for the rest of 2020.

On this virtual Tour, you can travel with us as we explore two emerging countries - Azerbaijan & Georgia. On this Tour, we fly into Baku, Azerbaijan and out of Tbilisi, Georgia and bus, hike & funicular our way around these amazing cultures.

Day 10 Tbilisi, Georgia

This morning, after a relaxed breakfast, we headed off to the David/Davit Gareja Caves/Monastery.

David Gareja is a 6th century cave complex, located near the border of Azerbaijan.

The climate here is often described as semidesert which is a stark contrast to Sighnaghi.

Hundreds of cells, churches, refectories and living quarters have been hewn into the rock face at the steep slopes of Mount Gareja. Saint David, an Assyrian Monk, founded the monastic complex in the 6th century and it was steadily expanded during the following centuries.

The monastery complex has been an important center of religious and cultural activity for hundreds of years and this reached its height between the 11th and 13th centuries. The monastery complex was always closely linked with the royalty of Georgia, but the downfall of the Georgian monarchy did not put an end to the monastic activities at Davit Gareja. Neither did the attacks by the Mongols in the 13th century, or the attacks of the Persians in the 17th century.

It wasn’t until the Bolshevik takeover in 1921 that the monastery was closed down and became deserted. During the late Soviet years the monastery became a training ground for the Soviet War in Afghanistan and this caused considerable damage to the murals within the complex and caused a public outcry among Georgians. When Georgia restored its independence, the monastery was revived and it is once again a center of religious activity as well as an important destination for pilgrims and tourists alike.

The inside of the cave structures has been covered with numerous  murals and fresco paintings, a number of which have survived the test of time.

Since the Soviet border-drawing process did not have much regard for cultural borders, especially when religious heritage was involved, today parts of the monastery complex are technically located within Azerbaijan and this has sparked a minor border dispute between the two countries. Given the religious and cultural importance of Davit Gareja, Georgians have stated it to be unacceptable that the site would be split between two countries, and have offered a land swap, but a final agreement has yet to be achieved.  They have very long memories over here.

This was an amazing experience, again a site with so much history and a huge impact on the region yet most in the West are blissfully unaware of it all. The site has two main monasteries - the Lavra Monastery and, after a 50 minute walk, the Udabno Monastery.

Our trip notes for today include these two gems:

  1. We recommend long trousers as there can be snakes in the area

  2. The exact line of the Georgia-Azerbaijan border up here has not yet been formally demarcated, and you may find Azerbaijan border guards partrolling herre; they are not normally any hindrance to visiting the caves unless there is a flare-up of border tensions.

Afterwards, we stopped in the local village, Udabno, for lunch and refreshments ahead of our 2hour drive into Tbilisi, Georgia's capital. To give you an idea of the climate etc around here, Udabno actually means desert in Georgian and there is not a lot going on in this village.

Our hotel for the next four nights is the Oriental Hotel, Tbilisi which is located on the south-eastern side of the city and giving great access to the city.

We had the afternoon free - some used it to get ready for the next few days and then the next part of our journey through Georgia whilst others explored the nearby streets including the Holy Trinity Cathedral which was only about 400metres away.

This Cathedral looks the goods but was only constructed between 1995 & 2004, is the eighth-tallest Eastern Orthodox cathedral in the world and one of the largest religious buildings in the world by total area. According to my mates at Wikipedia, "the overall area of the cathedral, including its large narthex, is 3,000 square metres and the volume it occupies is 137,000 cubic metres. The interior of the church (nave) measures 56 metres by 44 metres, with an interior area of 2,380 square metres. The height of the cathedral from the ground to the top of the cross is 87.1 metres. The underground chapel occupies 35,550 cubic metres and the height is 13.1 metres. (I know it's a quote but I had to correct the spelling for metres!)

Soon enough it was time to find something to eat - not a hard task by any measure.

We settled for more khinkala (pasta dumplings), Ajapsandali (a spicy ratatouille), lobio (kidney beans) and salad. Oh, and we had to try the Georgian wines (again) to ensure that they tasted as good in Tbilisi as they did at the vineyard. They did!

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