Vardzia and the Khertvisi Fortress
October 6, 2012
The splendid, sun-drenched drive through the stark dramatic Erusheti Mountains of the Samtskhe-Javakheti Region of southwestern Georgia reminds me of my autumn days in New England years ago. Dark green and bright gold dominate the scene.
Against the blue horizon, a shadowy distant outline of the walls of the Khertvisi Fortress brings a smile. The climb to the ramparts brings a sense of ancient history. Already established for who knows how long, “Alexander the Macedonian” visited the site during his Eastern Campaign.
On the battlements, “Jan the American” met two Peace Corps Volunteers from the young country of America. He also encountered a group of four young people from the ancient land of Israel.
Further on, the road follows the upper Mtkvari River that cuts through the arid rocky hillsides. The cave city of Vardzia looms high above the river valley.
“King Giorgi III built a fortification here in the 12th Century, and his daughter, Queen Tamara, established a monastery that grew to a virtual holy city housing 2000 monks.
“In 1551 the Georgians were defeated by the Persians in a battle in the caves themselves, and Vardzia was looted. Today, Vardzia is again a working monastery, with some caves inhabited by monks.”*
And who can blame them? Vardzia is “magical.”
PS Relax! I didn’t join the order. I drove back through the mountains to my hotel in Akhaltsikhe. Then I took a walk up to the Rabati - Old Town - with an assortment of traditional Georgian architecture, a castle and a mosque.
Aside from the usual tourists, I met a lovely nun who was obviously not from Georgia. I asked my polite question, “What part of the world are you from?” “India” was her response. She and a group are traveling from Calcutta through Georgia on their way to the Baltics. I wished her success.
As I walked away I remembered! Calcutta! Her habit looked familiar. So I found the nun again and said that I recognized her habit from photographs. I asked if she was from the same order as Mother Theresa. Yes, she said, but she never met her. She remarked that many people still come to her tomb to pray.
Thank Heavens for the nuns of the Missionaries of Charity. Selfless women who do their best to help others in desperate need.
*Georgia, Armenia & Azerbaijan. Lonely Planet Publications Pty Ltd. 2012. pg 108.