ANCIENT CAVE SETTLEMENTS
There are numerous cave settlements in Georgia dating from the different eras. Ancient cave settlements of Uplistsikhe, David Gareja and Vardzia are one of the most interesting historical monuments of the country and 2 of them are still active spiritual sites.
Vardzia is a cave monastery site in southern Georgia, excavated from the slopes of the Erusheti Mountain on the left bank of the Mtkvari River. The main period of construction was the second half of the twelfth century. The caves stretch along the cliff for some five hundred meters and in up to nineteen tiers. The Church of the Dormition, dating to the 1180s during the golden age of Queen Tamar and the greatest writer of Georgia Shota Rustaveli, has an important series of wall paintings. The site was largely abandoned after the Ottoman takeover in the sixteenth century. Now part of a state heritage reserve, Vardzia has been submitted for future inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage List. It is also an active monastery and the monks still live in the caves.
Uplistsikhe is identified by archaeologists as one of the oldest urban settlements in Georgia. Strategically located in the heartland of ancient kingdom of Kartli (or Iberia as it was known to the Classical authors), it emerged as a major political and religious center of the country. Built on a high rocky left bank of the Mtkvari River, 10 kilometers east of the town of Gori it contains various structures dating from the Early Iron Age to the Late Middle Ages, and is notable for the unique combination of various styles of rock-cut cultures from Anatolia and Iran, as well as the co-existence of pagan and Christian architecture. The earliest traces of human presence in Uplistsikhe date back to the end of the 2nd millennium BC. Its earliest remaining structures are from the beginning of the 1st millennium AD. With the Christianization of Kartli early in the 4th century, Uplistsikhe seems to have declined in its importance and lost its position to the new centers of Christian culture – Mtskheta and, later Tbilisi. Meanwhile, it continued to develop as a town. The first Christina basilica was constructed in the 6th century. However, Uplistsikhe reemerged as a principal Georgian stronghold during the Muslim conquest of Tbilisi in the 8th-10th centuries. Another, three-church basilica was constructed at that time. The Mongol raids in the 14th century marked the ultimate eclipse of the town; it was virtually abandoned, and only occasionally used as a temporary shelter in times of foreign intrusions.
David Gareja is a rock-hewn Georgian Orthodox monastery complex located in the Kakheti region of Eastern Georgia , on the half-desert slopes of Mount Gareja on the edge of Iori Plateau, some 60–70 km southeast of Georgia's capital Tbilisi. The complex includes hundreds of cells, churches, chapels, refectories and living quarters hollowed out of the rock face.
Part of the complex of David Gareja (Bertubani Monastery) is located in the borderline's s zone between Georgia and Azerbaijan and has become subject to a border dispute between Georgia and Azerbaijan.The area is also home to protected animal species and evidence of some of the oldest human habitations in the region.