Sunday, May 5, 2013

Davit Gareja Monastery, Georgia

Yesterday, Dan and I decided to explore the Davit Gareja Monastery.  Heidi had already booked a tour to Mtskheta, Gori, and Uplistsikhe, so it was just a boys trip.

Davit Gareja Monastery, დავითგარეჯის სამონასტრო კომპლექსი, is about 75 km (47 miles) southeast of Tbilisi, near the border with Azerbaijan.  The easiest way to get there is by taxi so we hired a driver to take us there, wait 2.5 hours and then bring us back.  My Russian has been getting a check of a workout in the Caucasus but I was able to talk the driver down to 120 Lari ($72.68).  Not bad considering Dan and I split this in two.

Along the way, we had the driver pull off to the side of the road so that we could take a few photos of some sheep.

The complex was founded by David, in the 6th century, who was one of 13 Assyrian monks who had arrived in Georgia.  Many see this monastery as the nation's spiritual center.

When Georgia became part of the Soviet Union the monastery was closed down.  Due to the semi-desert conditions the area was used as a military training ground during period of the Soviet War in Afghanistan.  Monastery life renewed after Georgian independence in 1991.

The border
The border between Georgia and Azerbaijan divides part of the monastery. 

Lavra, founded in the 6th century, is on the Georgian side and is a functioning monastery.  About a 20 minute hike up the hill is Udabno, the uninhabited old cave monastery with some beautiful but damaged frescoes.

View of Georgia

At the top of the hill you have great views of both Georgia and Azerbaijan.

View of Azerbaijan
You also get to see armed Georgian and Azeri soldiers.

This is another rare opportunity to actually set foot in Azerbaijan without having an Azeri visa.

Georgian soldier on guard

Update:  It looks like I got here just in time.  On May 6th, Azerbaijan repositioned border guards on the trail between the two sections and visitors from Georgia no longer have access to the cave monasteries.  However, the Orthodox monks are able to move between the two sides without any problem.

Update:  On May 20th, the Azeris agreed that the status quo would be restored allowing visitors access to both sides of the complex. 

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