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Davit Gareja: The Millennial Monastery in the Confines of Georgia

One of the most typical day trips from Tbilisi is to the monasteries of Davit Gareja (46 miles). It is a group of monasteries excavated directly on the rock scattering throughout a large semi-desert area on the border with Azerbaijan. The place is quite difficult to access and you can only get there by taxi or by driving your own vehicle – an SUV would be best.

It is located in the Kakheti region, and the landscape is much drier here, but equally impressive. It is a little bit distant, so do not forget to bring some food and water. The visit usually lasts about three hours.

Davit Gareja represents the largest concentration of sanctuaries in the country. Its activities began in the sixth century.

Its name is based on the monk Davit Gareja, one of the Thirteen Assyrian Fathers who came from the Middle East to consolidate Christianity in Georgia. In addition, he and his disciple Lukiane founded this place.

Little by little, it became one of the great spiritual centers of the Caucasus and it lived its Golden Age from the tenth century until the arrival of the Mongols in the thirteenth century, who looted it in return.

However, the monastic life remained steady until Shah Abbas killed 6,000 monks during the Orthodox Easter, destroying much of their cultural heritage in the seventeenth century. From then on, the place went through a decline until the last monks disappeared in the 19th century.

Today, the religious life has returned to Davit Gareja (Gareji) thanks to a small religious community settled in the Lavra Monastery. The complex was in danger of blowing up until the 1990s as the area was declared a training area for the Soviet Army. Several years after the collapse of the former USSR, the Georgian government decided to protect it and invest in promoting it as a tourist attraction.

Nowadays, the two most visited monasteries in the group are Lavra and Udabno – they are also two of the best-preserved monasteries. In the first of them, there are the tombs of Davit Gareja and his disciple Luciano. The second monastery stands out for some of its frescoes, which have survived since the Middle Ages. You should remember to wear long pants and if you are a woman, bring a kerchief or something similar to cover your head. In this place, the monks are quite strict with the dress code.

It takes about two hours to explore the monastery of Lavra and Udabno. In summer, it is really hot so you should get up early so you do not get burnt. If you decide to explore the monasteries on your own, you should know that Davit Gareja is a snake area, so watch your step. You should also keep up so that you do not miss to cross the border with Azerbaijan.

Transportation

It is impossible to go to Davit Gareja by public transport. The best way to get there is by shared taxi or on a tour. A taxi from Tbilisi costs around 120 GEL. If you want to save some money, you can take a marshrutka to Sagarejo and from there a taxi to Davit Gareja round trip (30 GEL).

You should check out the return times of the minibusses from Sagarejo so you will not miss any return transportation. However, for us, the best way to get to know about the schedules is through the tour organized by the Garegi Line agency. From April to October, group trips to the monastery take place daily for 25 GEL.

Their marshrutkas leave every day at 11:00 a.m. from Pushkin Park (next to Freedom Square) and they return at 7:00 p.m. The tour includes the round trip, a 3-hour visit to the monasteries and a stop to eat in Udabno. For more information: E-mail: gareji.line@gmail.com Cellphone: +995 551 95 14 47.