David Gareja is a rock-hewn Georgian Orthodox monastery complex located in the Kakheti region of Eastern Georgia, on the half-desert slopes of Mount Gareja, 60–70 km southeast of Tbilisi. The complex includes hundreds of cells, churches, chapels, refectories and living quarters hollowed out of the rock face.
Part of the complex is located in the Azerbaijani territory and has been subject to a border dispute between Georgia and Azerbaijan.
By the way, If you’re not going to Azerbaijan, you can at least say you’ve set foot in their territory! :)
The area is also home to protected animal species and evidence of some of the oldest human habitations in the region (pay attention to white seashell stuck in rocks in some areas - referencing that the whole area used to be covered by ocean many years ago).
Uniqueness of the complex is heightened by a lunar, semi desert landscape that turns green and blooms with flowers in early summer. Davit Gareja comprises about 15 monasteries spread over a remote area (most long abandoned), but visitors usually just see two – Lavra (which has been restored since Soviet times and is now again inhabited by monks) and, on the hill above it, Udabno, which has beautiful frescoes.
Lavra, the original monastery here, was founded by Davit Gareja, one of the 13 ascetic Syrian fathers who returned from the Middle East to spread Christianity in Georgia in the 6th century. The complex grew until monasteries were spread over a wide area. Manuscripts were translated and copied, and a celebrated school of fresco painting flourished here. The monasteries were destroyed by the Mongols in 1265, revived in the 14th century by Giorgi V the Brilliant, sacked by Timur, and then destroyed on Easter night 1615 when Shah Abbas’ soldiers killed 6000 monks and trashed many of the artistic treasures. The monasteries never regained their former importance, though they remained active until the end of the 19th century. During the Soviet era, the military used the area for exercises and vandalized the monasteries.
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 Gareja 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 Gareja, 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 Gareja 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 25 GEL per person and the journey takes just over one hour.
Please double check, the minibus line operates only from Srping to Autumn.