David Gareja & Sighnaghi

Shared a taxi to David Gareja today with Nena from Slovenia and a Polish couple whose names I have forgotten.

David Gareja was a monk who lived in the 6th Century AD and wandered to present-day Georgia from Jerusalem to found a monastery here and spread Christianity. The monastery is located about 60km south-east of Tbilisi, directly at the border to Azerbaijan, and was later named after its founder.

The countryside is almost steppe-like with no surface water nearby, which is very unusual for Georgia. There used to be water here, and maybe there still is at some time during the year, as the deep-cut valleys and river beds prove.

The present-day monastery, still – or rather, again, since 1991 – inhabited by monks, is partly hewn into the rock, partly built over the rock chambers on the eastern slope of a ridge. The border runs along the western slope, only few hundred meters away. Apparently, the monastic complex comprises of many more cells and churches spread across the neighbouring hills than are obviously visible to the casual tourist, and there is an on-going conflict with Azerbaijan about the exact border line. Based on uncertain grounds, Azerbaijan claims the David Gareja area as part of the historical Caucasian Albania (not related to Albania in the Balkans)

It is possible to climb up and wander along the David Gareja ridge, which extends for a couple of kilometers. Up there one has a splendid view over the adjacant Azerbaijani plains. There are also a number of unused artificial monastic caves to discover. In some of them frescoes can still be found on walls and ceilings. Additionally, there is a Georgian border post stationed there in the shade of a little church(!!!). That is, these guys have to hang out up there without much shelter from the weather. They didn’t want to be photographed by us. :)

We spent some time up there, drank some wine, got a little sun-burned, enjoyed the tranquility and peacefulness of the place, and wandered around between the caves looking at the frescoes and watching out for snakes.

Our taxi driver had suggested a visit to the town of Sighnaghi for a minor surcharge. Sighnaghi is located above the Alazani valley (where that awesome wine came from). Georgia’s current president, Mikheil Saakashvili, took a liking in the place and ordered the renovation of its buildings. It is now very touristy (as touristy as a Georgian town can be) and I prefer more authentic places. However, it was good to have been there because I can now cross it off the list of places to visit in Georgia (which is still quite long).

Returned to Tbilisi for the night.

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