Vardzia, a 12th century rock-cut town-monastery, is located in historic Javakheti, on the left bank of the Mtkvari, 30 km from Aspindza, holding a prominent place in rock architecture not only in Georgian, but in world history. The construction of Vardzia is connected with the names of St. King Tamar and her father – King George III. The complex has been carved into a 500-meter long section of the cliff, consisting of 13 levels. It comprises more than 600 caves. The complex was supplied with a plumbing system and drinking water. Rooms for different purposes are also encountered here: the so-called “Pharmacy”, “Tamar’s Hall”, “The Banquet Room”, “The Refectory”, “The Stable”, etc. The main structure at Vardzia is a single-nave church of the Dormition.
Its exquisite mural decoration dating to the turn of the 13th century, apart from the religious scenes, contains the portraits of King Tamar and her father King George. Only two built structures were located in the Vardzia complex, which was damaged early enough – these are a two-storey bell-tower (13th cent.), with only the ground floor remaining today, and the porch of the main church 13th cent.). Of certain importance is the Ananauri settlement, in the 10th century rock-cut church of which fine 13th and 15th century murals are preserved. Currently there is a male monastery at Vardzia. Most of the rock-hewn chambers in the city were intended for residence. Each dwelling consists of three adjacent rooms, cut consecutively from the face into the depth of the rock along a south to north axis. The floors were connected by secret passages and holes made in the ceilings of the porticoes with wooden ladders attached to them.
The so-called Salkhino hall with an adjoining wine cellar was intended for feasts. There was also another large wine cellar (marani) with thirteen buried jars.
The existence of wine-pressers and wine cellars indicates that viticulture and wine-making played an important role in Vardzian life, especially in the 15th century.The so-called ‘Tamar’s room’ is located in the west part of the hall. According to a legend, Queen Tamar had 366 rooms in Vardzia so that enemies could never find out where her bedroom was.
The spring is situated deep in the mountain not far from the main church. Its reservoir contains about 8 m3 (i.e. up to 200 buckets) of fresh cold water, the constant temperature 110C. However, a special water supply was built to supply the town with spring water. The water supply provided 166 000 liters per day that was enough to supply the town of 50 000 people. A tank containing 630 000 litters, was cut in the rock in the west part of the complex to store water. Vardzia is best known for the paintings of the main church. The images of King George III, Queen Tamar and Eristavi Rati Surameli are found in the Assumption temple, created by the master Giorgi in 1180. This is one of the four images of the great queen of such an ancient origin. Vardzia’s paintings represent significant monument of the Georgian monumental painting.