Uplistsikhe, translating to "the fortress of the lord," stands as an ancient rock-hewn settlement situated in eastern Georgia, approximately 10 kilometers to the east of Gori. Positioned atop a lofty rocky bank overlooking the Mtkvari River, this site boasts a diverse array of structures spanning the Early Iron Age to the Late Middle Ages. It is particularly remarkable for its amalgamation of distinctive rock-cut architectural styles, drawing influences from Anatolia and Iran, while also showcasing a remarkable fusion of pagan and Christian architectural elements.
Archaeological consensus identifies Uplistsikhe as one of the earliest urban settlements in Georgia, assuming strategic significance within the heartland of the ancient Kartli kingdom (known as Iberia in Classical times). It emerged as a significant political and religious hub for the region.
With the advent of Christianity in Kartli during the 4th century, Uplistsikhe's prominence appears to have waned, yielding ground to the newly established centers of Christian culture, namely Mtskheta and subsequently Tbilisi. Nevertheless, Uplistsikhe regained prominence as a crucial Georgian stronghold during the 8th and 9th centuries, amid the Muslim conquest of Tbilisi. Subsequent Mongol invasions in the 14th century culminated in the town's decline, rendering it virtually abandoned, only serving as sporadic shelter during foreign incursions.
According to legend, the cave town was predominantly constructed by enslaved individuals who were armed with an axe. Their freedom was promised once the axe wore out from use.
The Uplistsikhe complex can be roughly categorized into three segments: the southern (lower), middle (central), and northern (upper) regions, encompassing an approximate area of 8 hectares. The central portion is the largest, hosting the majority of rock-cut structures. It is connected to the southern part via a narrow rock-cut pass and a tunnel. Radiating from the central "street," narrow passages and staircases lead to various structures.
While many of the caves lack ornamentation, larger structures feature coffered tunnel-vaulted ceilings, imitating the appearance of logs. Niches can also be found in some larger structures, possibly employed for ceremonial purposes.
Crowning the complex's summit is a Christian basilica, crafted from stone and brick in the 9th-10th centuries. Excavations have unearthed a plethora of artifacts spanning different epochs, including jewelry made of gold, silver, and bronze, along with samples of ceramics and sculptures. Numerous of these relics are under the guardianship of the National Museum in Tbilisi.
In 1920, an earthquake caused considerable damage to several vulnerable sections. The Uplistsikhe cave complex has been nominated for inclusion in the UNESCO World Heritage program since 2007.
Among the fascinating artifacts within Uplistsikhe are:
The Antique Theatron, located on the southwestern fringes of the complex, dating back to the 2nd-3rd centuries AD. The ceiling exhibits exquisite adornments, with the central portion designated for the stage and the now-ruined side intended for spectators.
The Jail, situated on the left side of the main thoroughfare, is a deep hole in the road designed to publicly shame prisoners.
King Tamar’s Hall (named after Tamar, though she never resided there) was designed for rituals and celebrations.
The Apotheke houses traces of various medicinal plants, including a stone embedded with seashells, attesting to the region's ancient oceanic history.
The Secret Tunnel extends 41 meters down to the Mtkvari bank and was utilized to provide sustenance and water to the settlement during sieges.
Working hours: Everyday, except Monday, 10:00-17:00
Entrance fees: Adults - 3 GEL; Students - 1 GEL; Children under 6 - free. (outdated information, prices might somewhat have changed)
Location: village Kvakhvreli, Gori
Phone: (+995 590) 880 114