Favorite thing: For centuries David-Gareji has been a significant religious and cultural centre. Pilgrims of various nationalities used to visit it and Georgian kings and noblemen showed Gareji monasteries special attention because the legend said that one third of Jerusalem’s spiritual treasure was kept there. According to this legend, Davit travelled to Jerusalem, but was overcome by emotion and felt unable to enter the city. He turned back with just 3 stones he had picked up. The same night, the king of Jerusalem had a dream that someone had taken all the spiritual peace form Jerusalem. His soldiers followed Davit and reclaimed two of the stones, leaving him with one stone to bring back. This stone is now kept in the altar of the Sioni cathedral in Tbilisi and is taken to Gareja every year for religious celebrations.
Favorite thing: The soviet army established a military polygon in the territory around Davit Gareji in 1948. Rock-cut churches were used as targets for projectiles. As a result, many caves were ruined and murals destroyed. Some of the first demonstrations of the perestroika period in T’bilisi were protests against this vandalism.
Some unique mural paintings are preserved in the Gareji monasteries, the oldest of which go back to the 8th century in the Dodos-Rka monastery. Mural paintings in Udabno monasteries date back from the 10th century.
One of the main features of the frescos school in Udabno is the representation of episodes from the life of St. David Garejeli, in addition to the canonical scenes. Another feature of the Gareji school of painting is an abundance of contemporary and realistic portraits of royal personages
Rock-cut dwellings and monasteries were common in Georgia and other countries of the Middle East: the rock-cut towns of Uplistsikhe and Vardzia – Georgia, Cappadocia – Turkey, Petra – Jordan, and many others around the region.
The caves at Davit Gareji comprise churches, cells, caves for practical purposes like barns, bakeries, smithies, housing for livestock and for the monks and were intentionally uncomfortable, since they were meant for a life of asceticism
Favorite thing: Watch towers and defence walls can be found in several monasteries around the complex, the most visible ones being at the Lavra. These fortifications were apparently constructed after the Persian invasion in 1615, which killed all monks and set fire to manuscripts and other religious works of art.
The other key monastery complex at Davit Gareja is called Udabno, and is located up the hill from the Lavra.
To get there, simply ask a monk for directions, or if you feel discovering it yourself, go up the watchtower on the cliff, and then follow the path up, along the metal line.
The trek to Udabno caves isn’t as difficult as it seems, and takes a little more than one hour.
Fondest memory: Among the reasons to go there:
– 10th century original frescos
- enter Azerbaijan (no passport needed, though)
- panoramic desert views
Father David (the Gajereli) originally settled on the mountain "Mtatsminda" in Tbilisi. In 562 he went to Kakhetia, and settled here, where he lived in a cave.
Later in the sixth century, the Metropolitan monastery of Lavra ("cave") was founded on that place. The monastery was extended in the ninth century and again in the eleventh century, so that it now comprises three levels with buildings dating from many different periods. From the third level you can go up to the caver known as “Davit’s tears” because of the spring inside. Near here you can see the water system the monks developed.