David Gareji stands as a Georgian Orthodox monastery complex that has been carved into the rugged terrain of the Kakheti region in Eastern Georgia. Its unique location graces the half-desert slopes of Mount Gareja, situated around 60–70 km southeast of Tbilisi. This intricate complex boasts an array of cells, churches, chapels, refectories, and living spaces meticulously hollowed out of the rock formations.
It's noteworthy that a portion of this remarkable complex extends into Azerbaijani territory, sparking an ongoing border dispute between Georgia and Azerbaijan. Interestingly, if you're not embarking on a journey to Azerbaijan, you can still humorously claim to have set foot on their land! :)
Beyond its historical and spiritual significance, the area is a haven for protected animal species and harbors traces of ancient human settlements. Observe the white seashells embedded in rocks in certain sections; these remnants bear testament to the area's former oceanic covering from ages past.
Adding to its allure, the complex is set against a lunar-like, semi-desert backdrop that transforms into a verdant oasis, adorned with blossoms, as early summer arrives. The expanse of Davit Gareja encompasses approximately 15 monasteries scattered across a remote landscape. While many of these monasteries have been abandoned over time, visitors often focus on two prominent ones: Lavra, which has been restored since the Soviet era and now accommodates monks once again, and Udabno, perched on the hill above Lavra, boasting exquisite frescoes.
Lavra, the initial monastery within this complex, was established by Davit Gareji, one of the 13 ascetic Syrian fathers who returned from the Middle East during the 6th century to propagate Christianity in Georgia. Over time, the complex expanded, leading to the establishment of monastic sites across a wide area. This locale became a hub for manuscript translation, copying, and a renowned school of fresco painting.
The monastic sanctuaries faced tribulations, including devastation by the Mongols in 1265, revival by Giorgi V the Brilliant in the 14th century, plundering by Timur, and a catastrophic destruction on Easter night in 1615, when Shah Abbas’ troops killed thousands of monks and despoiled numerous artistic treasures. Although the monasteries never fully regained their former prominence, they remained active until the late 19th century. Notably, during the Soviet era, the region served as a military training ground, resulting in the desecration of the monasteries by vandals.
It takes two to three hours to explore Lavra and Udabno. In July and August it can get fearfully hot here by the middle of the day, so an early start, getting here by 10am, is a good idea.
Also, keep in mind that there are many snakes and reptiles lurking the area so watch your step carefully.
There are many interesting symbolic myths and legends connected to the complex and reflected in the icons and wall paintings so hiring a guide might be a good idea if you’re into culture, history and legends :)
- There are no entrance fees to the site.
- Keep in mind that David Gareji is an active monastery, and the monks can be pretty strict, so please try dress and act in accordance.
- We recommend wearing long pants.
- Take water with you, there usually is no running water.
- There is a public toilet near the entrance.
- On the way back we highly recommend stopping in a small village Udabno (the first one on the way to Sagarejo, in the middle of Georgian desert), at the very nice cafe "Oasis Club" where you can try tasty Georgian food and refreshments.
They also have a nice guesthouse / hostel and offer some horse riding tours.
How to get there:
We recommend hiring a 4WD vehicle with cars4rent.ge and driving a comfortable car on your own.
There are 2 roads going to Gareji, one, the most popular, is on our map, a red rout turning from town Sagarejo. Another option (Google Maps will recommend this one) is to take a road from town Rustavi, the drive will be interesting but the road is in a worse condition so we recommend the one through Sagarejo.
Although if you are more interested in public transport, every season it’s possible to get to David Gareji by mini-bus, operated by Gareji Line
, which departs from Freedom Square.Here is contact information:
Parking by Pushkin Park / Liberty Square (0.45 km)
+995 551 95 14 47
The Gareji Line bus departs at 11am daily, costs 40 GEL per person and the journey takes just over one hour.
Please double check, the minibus line operates only from Srping to Autumn.