One of the best day trips from Tbilisi, according to the Lonely Planet, if not the best one, is a trip to the incredible David Gareja Monastery. The complex of David Gareja (also transliterated as Davit Gareja, Davit Gereja or David Gereji – uf!) is just about one hour from Tbilisi, and I agree it’s not to be missed (at the end of this post you’ll see how to travel to David Gareja from Tbilisi).
Davit Gareja was built in the 6th Century by Assyrian Priests sent to strengthen Christianity in Georgia. The complex consists of 13 monasteries spread out in the hills of this semi-desert area around what is today the border between Georgia and Azerbaijan.
The first part of the monastery is called Lavra, the only inhabited part of the complex with its church, small monasteries and the monks’ living quarters. The buildings seem to naturally blend with the landscape, with dwellings carved in the rock, reminding me of Vardzia and Cappadocia.
Since the gates were shut, I couldn’t get into the courtyard. So I started my climb to the other part of the complex.
After 10-15 minutes’ climb, passing by a tiny church with three army men standing around, and continued my walk, following the metal railings that designates the Georgian-Azerbaijan border. If you’re not going to Azerbaijan, you can at least say you’ve set foot in their territory! 🙂
It’s a very pleasant climb, with a stunning scenery of green rolling hills on the Azerbaijani side. In other parts of the year, it’s all very dry, an actual semi-desert with mountains displaying different shades of orange, brown and red colours.
When I arrived at part of the monastery called Udabno, which is in fact in Azeri territory, I was quite releived for not stepping on any poisonous vipers. But as you can see on the picture above, by The Aloof, there are some and you should be careful.
The cave monasteries at Udabno are impressive. They are covered in thousand year old religious paintings. At some point, the Georgian school of frescoes flourished in Davit Gareja, and the caves here are a great example.
Some of the paintings are incredibly well preserved. I stayed in the area for about one hour, exploring the different caves and contemplating the views.
BORDER DISPUTE WITH AZERBAIJAN
Udabno is, in fact, in Azerbaijan. Despite the army men guarding the borders, you can jump to either side of the railings as you please; but this is a disputed area between both countries. Azerbaijan says this area used to be historically important for the country. Georgia argues their point, that this has always been Georgian territory.
Despite it all, there’s no fight between the countries and everything is peaceful – unlike the Azeri-Armenian situation.
HOW TO TRAVEL TO DAVID GAREJA FROM TBILISI
Getting to David Gareja used to implicate private taxi ride from Tbilisi or a trip to Sagarejo with a taxi connection to the monasteries.
Now it’s possible to get to David Gareja by mini-bus, which departs from Liberty Square. Just go to the Tourist Information kiosk and they will help you. The Gareji Line bus departs at 11am daily, costs 25GEL per person and the journey takes just over one hour.
So, what did you think of Davit Gareja? Leave your comments below! 🙂