Uplistsikhe Cave City in Georgia: History, Photos, Reviews

Uplistsikhe Cave City in Georgia: History, Photos, Reviews

In the east of Georgia, a hundred kilometers from the capital and twelve from Gori, stretches the ancient city of Uplistsikhe, which has become a tourist destination since the fifties. The name of one of the main attractions of the country is translated as "Fortress of God. The caves of the city, abandoned by people only in the nineteenth century, keep 3000 years of history, full of secrets and mysterious facts.

Now the site attracts thousands of visitors to plunge into the atmosphere of antiquity, to look into the depths of the "Lord's Fortress", to get into a completely different world. The historical monument, which has the status of a museum and is under UNESCO protection, is called the Georgian Petra. Located on the bank of the Kura River, it is considered to be one of the first settlements inhabited by people in Georgia even before our era.

The History of Uplistsikhe: Development, War, and Decline

Supposedly the city of Uplistsikhe was founded in 1000 B.C., and people left it only in 1920. In the immediate vicinity there was a small village of the same name, which was bustling with life until the mid-1990s.

One of the legends says that the city was built by slaves. Each of them was promised freedom and a decent wage upon completion of the architectural structures. The tools were large stone knives with a piece of gold hidden inside. When the object was ground down and the precious metal exposed, the slave could be considered a free man and leave, taking the gold from his knife.


However, this beautiful story is not to be believed: the massif of the Georgian city consists of sandstone, which has too soft and malleable a structure to resist stone. The name goes back to the Middle Ages. Historians of that generation mentioned Uplos, son of Mtsketos. He inherited his father's power and built the fortress of Uplistsikhe.

It happened when the Kartvelian tribes came to the Kura, a valley on the northern bank of the Mtkvari. At the same time, ancient people founded the towns of Kvartskhela and a settlement in what is now Didube (a quarter in Tbilisi). Uplistsikhe helped trade relations between Urartu and Midia to flourish, and later it became part of the state of Iberia. Having received the status of a sacred place, the city became a pagan center.

Its heart, the Temple of the Sun, was situated on the highest point of the site. Later the structure was destroyed during the war with Mtskheta, and the architecture of Uplistsikhe was severely damaged. The events, according to historical reference, took place in 337 after the baptism of Georgia.

The inhabitants of the cave city did not want to recognize Christianity along with Kartli. Forced to stop resisting the ideology, they continued to worship their own gods: idols of the sun, water, earth and air. The pagan identity of the people is also evidenced by the hollow-shaped altars found in the territory.

Although scientists disagree on this point as well: some believe that these are ordinary ovens used for bread production and heating, and the grooves leading to the pits are blowholes. Other researchers argue against the hypothesis, considering them a drain for the blood of sacrificial animals.

The year 736 was a turning point for Georgia: Mervan's troops wiped many cities off the map and captured Tbilisi. Uplistsikhe not only survived this battle, but also became the capital of the kingdom of Kartli. The expansion of the city area was due to a change in the course of the river Kura, which laid a new channel, freeing up land for building.

In the eighth and tenth centuries, the feudal state of Kartalinia was barely beyond the borders of Uplescikhe and was completely visible from the mountain near the city. It became so small after the destruction by war. It was during this period that the construction of cultural objects was actively carried out and the population reached 20 thousand people.

The place did not remain free for long: in 904 the king of Abkhazia conquered it. And soon the famous Uplistsuli temple appeared on the territory of the old cemetery, which is still active today.


In 920, Constantine, the Abkhaz ruler of Kartli, who rebelled against his father George, besieged the fortress, but could not take it by force. During the days-long battle, the inhabitants selflessly repelled the attack, not intending to surrender to the conquerors.

As a result, the fortress was taken by stealth, Constantine was captured, and Uplistsikhe was given to the future king of Abkhazia, Leon the Third. The following 200 years the city was part of the united Georgia. In 1122 King David of Georgia liberated the country from the Arabs, and the center moved to Tbilisi again. It was at this time that the state importance of Uplistsikhe began to decline.

In the 13th-14th centuries, the Mongols repeatedly attacked the city, burning buildings until it was finally destroyed. After that the territory ceased to play a significant role for Georgia and was gradually finally abandoned by the people.


The Cave City of Uplistsikhe now

The fact that people inhabited the city for several eras, even before the birth of Christ, and left it only in the 19th century A.D. is amazing. For three thousand years Uplistsikhe has been teeming with life. Generations succeeded each other, fought, had children, died.

In ancient times there were about 700 caves, halls and structures in Uplistsikhe. Now there are about 150, and they are all open to the public. On the modern territory of the museum there are convenient parking lots for tourist vehicles, ticket offices, vending machines with drinks and cafes.

The complex is equipped with restrooms, and there is a camping site nearby. Tour guides include the most striking sights in the program, giving travelers the opportunity to see with their own eyes the preserved evidence of the way of life of Georgia's pagans.


Queen Tamara Hall

In one of the caves, designed as a large hall, Queen Tamara was crowned co-ruler of her father in the XII century. The room is in a pagan temple, reconstructed into a royal residence back in the tenth century.

But the coronation was not the only event that linked the queen's name with the ancient city. According to historians, Tamara was married to her husband in the Three-nave Basilica, and later the wedding feast unfolded in the same room. The ceiling of the room has a large round hole for the penetration of sunlight, and the sides are equipped with marani - special vessels for storing wine.

On the floor you can see the remains of two large columns, which, unfortunately, have not survived to this day. Despite the difference of opinion among scholars as to whether or not the ruler could really have stayed in Uplistsikhe, the historical site is called the "Hall of Queen Tamara".


Antique stove structures

These objects have caused much controversy about their role in the daily life of the ancient settlement. Researchers have not come to a consensus as to whether they were actually bread ovens or mysterious pagan altars. In theory, the pits were used for cooking and heating, and the channels served as air blows.

Since it was difficult to find firewood in the steppe, dry cow dung was burned in the hollows. Tourists are surprised by what they see, and many ask the logical question "How was it possible to live in such conditions, especially in winter?" The houses in Uplistsikhe were warm and dry, the stone walls were not blown through by the wind.

It was enough for the inhabitants to make a fire in a special place, similar to a fireplace, and later leave the smoldering embers to heat the room. Climatic conditions allowed people not to worry about the daily heating of houses. This is also evidenced by the absence of chimney systems.

Ancient wineries

Historians claim that the wine produced in the cave town of Uplistsikhe was considered special and even sacred. There was no place to grow grapes around the city, it was surrounded by dense forests, and raw materials for wine-making were brought from far away.

The marani rooms are located near the ticket office and are the first attraction seen by guests who come to the museum complex. The winery is made up of two large square hollows connected by a canal. In one of them the berries were pressed and in the second one the juice flowed down the chute. Then the grape juice was combined with the cake to start the fermentation process.

After three weeks, the mixture was strained and the berry mass was used to make the local vodka, chacha. Before the Christians came to the town and destroyed most of the functional buildings, Uplistsikhe had several small wineries and one large one (58 karas).

Uplistsuli and the Three-nave Basilica

A basilica is a church with a regular roof, not a domed one. It is precisely such a building, built in the 10th century, which is located on the main square of the city. When Georgia became a Christian country, there were mass executions of priests and adherents of paganism.

At the same time, temples were rebuilt into churches, leaving no chance for another religion. From the largest building, where pagans worshipped their gods, they made a three-nave Christian basilica. But the churches did not last long and by now have been destroyed.


Uplistsuli means "Church of the Prince" in Georgian. The temple is unique in that it is built in a purely Georgian style: the side rooms are separated from the main room by walls rather than columns. Next to Uplistsuli can be seen the ruins of a basilica, destroyed during the era of resistance to Christianity.

The Treasure Found in Uplistsikhe

A sensational find was made in one of the caves. Archaeologists discovered a treasure trove containing four wheels, pagan symbols of the sun, moon and stars. Some of the contents are now in museums in Georgia. The items helped scientists to determine the purpose of some buildings and objects, as well as confirm the assumption about the importance of the numbers 4 and 8 for the ancient inhabitants of the city.

Guests of the museum can see for themselves: eight steps lead to the temple of the female sun deity, the number of which reveals what kind of room it was. Despite the fact that archaeologists continue to work in different parts of the territory, there are places in Uplistsikhe where excavations have not even begun yet. Perhaps, in the near future, tourists will discover new details about the life of the ancient settlement.

How to get there: tips for tourists

The cave city stretches along the slope of the cliff and is shaped like an elongated rectangle. The Uplistsuli Church is a landmark for many people as it is located almost in the center of the museum complex. Tourists are advised to see Uplistsukhe in the morning, while it is still not so hot. The attraction is an open area with no shady shelters, so the sun generously covers it with its rays.

There are several convenient ways to get to Uplistsikhe from the capital of Georgia:

  • Book an individual tour in Tbilisi with a guide, who will take travelers to the site in his own car;
  • Hire a driver or a cab, rent a car;
  • Get to Gori by shuttle bus, and from there take private transport to Uplistsikhe.

Gori and Mtskheta are nearby. It is advisable to build a combined route, thereby covering more places of interest. Tourists can also visit the town of Borjomi on the way. Uplistsikhe Museum is open from 11:00 to 18:00 daily.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *