25 km from Gardabani, the suburb of Rustavi, there is another original Georgian monument, which equals such masterpieces of the world legacy as Vardzia rocky monastery, the cave city of Uplistsikhe, and Ushguli village - the grandiose complex of David Gareja cave monasteries. This monument is known all over the world for its exclusiveness and originality.
David Gareja complex comprises hundreds of in-rock premises – temples, cells, warehouses, rooms etc. This cave complex is located in Gare Kakheti and stretches for 25 km along the semi desert slopes of the Gareji range, presenting a majestic view. Altogether, there were found 14 monastic complexes constructed at various times – David's Monastery, Mokhatuli, Tsamebuli, Natlis-Mtsemeli, Dodos Rka and others. Historically the beginning of the complex is related to the first half of the VI century when one of the 13 Syrian Fathers named David (he and his pupils were buried in David Gareji) made a solitary Gareji cave his home and soon founded the first monastery there - David's Monastery. In the same century, his pupils Dodo and Lukyan founded another two monasteries – Dodos Rka and Natlis-Mtsemeli.
In the XI century, David's Monastery was expanded with a terraced courtyard, new cells, the refectory, and the church. Soon afterwards, the pool, channels, and reservoirs were added. In the XI – XIII centuries, David Gareja reached its highest level of development. At that time new monasteries - Udabno, Bertubani and Chichkhituri were erected. During the period coinciding with the consolidation of Georgia, the churches received their remarkable frescos. Original in color and techniques, the frescos of the cave monasteries David Gareja show religious themes. Some of the frescos represent portraits of historical figures - David the Builder (in Natlis-Mtsemeli), Queen Tamara (in Bertubani), Dimitri Tavdadebuli (in Udabno). In the XII century, David Gareja turns into the cultural and educational centre of entire eastern Georgia. In the XIII century, during Mongolian invasions, the monasteries were plundered and destroyed.
During its centuries-old existence the monastic complex David Gareja underwent numerous destructions, but managed to survive and played the essential role in spiritual development of the country. The last restoration of the complex is dated late XVII century. The temples, the courtyard, and the refectories were restored. But beginning from the XIX century, in connection with appearance of spiritual and secular schools in cities of Georgia, David Gareja lost its significance. In the second half of the XIX century, the monasteries were practically abandoned.
Still active, David Gareja is an outstanding sample of architecture – due to its grandiose sizes and historical and artistic value it occupies a special place among the monuments of material culture of Georgia.
It might be interesting to know about the greatest relic kept in David Gareja – the stone brought by David from his pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Having reached Jerusalem, David experienced such an awe that did not dare to enter the city; so he picked up three stones and went back. Same night the king dreamed that somebody had taken away all spiritual force from Jerusalem. Soldiers found David and took two stones from him. The third one was brought to Georgia. Now this stone, one third of the spiritual power of Jerusalem is stored in the Zion Cathedral in Tbilisi; it is brought to David Gareja only for special ceremonies.