David Gareja monastery complex, Georgia – photo essay
Established in the 6th century by St. David Garejeli, who was one of the 13 ‘Syrian fathers’ who travelled from the Middle East to spread Christianity to Georgia. The modest order grew a reputation for the copying and translating of ancient texts as well as founding some of the earliest schools of Georgian Art before it was destroyed by Mongol invaders in 1265. Faulting attempts at the reviving the house of learning and worship were met with more plundering foreign powers, as the Timurs, Persians and Russians all ransacked the precious items within.
The Lavra monastery is spread across three levels, with buildings dating from many different periods. The surrounding defensive walls and watchtower are from the 18th century. From the entrance, you cross through the 17th century Church of St. Nicholas, down to the Church of the Transfiguration containing the remains of Davit Gareja and his two Kakhetian disciples Lukiane and Dodo. The monks’ living quarters are cut into the rock above the monastery and are out of bounds.
To reach the Udabno cave monasteries, take the uphill path beside the show selling religious items. When you reach the level with the watchtower overlooking, take the path straight up the hill. After reaching the metal railings, follow them left and up. On the other side of the ridge, the caves alongside and above the path are the Udabno monastery.
Some of the caves were churches, others chapels or living quarters, many of which retain the faint frescos painted during the 10th-13th centuries. Frescoes of particular note include Davit Gareja and Lukiane surrounded by deer, a reference to the story that deer gave them milk when they were wandering without sustenance in the wilderness and an 11th century depiction of the Last Supper.
How to get there?
There is no direct public transport to David Gareja but it is possible on a day trip from Tbilisi but taking a marshrutka (2.50 GEL, 1hr, hourly 9 a.m.-5 p.m.) from Didube (დიდუბე) to Gardabani (გარდაბანი) and from there hiring a taxi. The going price is around 60 GEL for a round trip including waiting time, but feel free to ask around and haggle to get the best deal.
If you are travelling from the east. It is possible to take in this unique place on a day trip from Sighnaghi and ending up in Tbilisi. We shared a taxi with two other people (60GEL) and hitch-hiked from there back to the capital.
Please be aware that there are monks living at the Lavra monastery and as such visitors should refrain from making too much noise. You will also be expected to be dressed conservatively, so you should avoid inappropriate clothing. For women it is recommended to wear a headscarf to cover their heads and shoulders.
(Click to enlarge)