Vardzia is 18 km from Akhalkalaki, right next to the border with Turkey. The city was erected in the 12th – 13th centuries during the rule of King George III and his daughter Queen Tamara for the purpose of protection of the southern boundaries of Georgia. Vardzia is not just a set of random rooms cut in rocks. It is a multi-storied (!) complex with streets, tunnels, and stairs leading to monasteries, temples, fortresses, baths, libraries dwelling houses, and so forth.
All in all, there are over 600 premises connected by passages which stretched along the mountain for as long as 800 meters, to the depth of 50 meters, standing 8 levels tall. In case of an enemy attack the monastery turned into a fortress for inhabitants and could host up to 20, 000 people.
Georgian soldiers could use three secret passages and defeat enemies with a surprise attack. The cave complex, besides protective, carried out spiritual function as a Christian monastery with the big temple of the Assumption of the Virgin. The temple still has the fragments of wonderful frescos of the 12th century, including the ones showing King George III and Queen Tamara. Some historians believe she was buried there. In order to confuse vandals and prevent grave destruction, eight funeral processions went different directions simultaneously from Tbilisi. They arrived both in Gelati and in Vardzia.
In the 13th century, Vardzia suffered from a major earthquake (1283) when a 15-meter rocky slab fell in Mtkvari. In the same 13th century, Vardzia suffered from Mongol invasion, Iran defeat, and after the Turkish yoke in the 14th -17th centuries, the city lost its function of fortress. All those events led to the city's abandonment and destruction.
During the Soviet period, the monastic life in the monastery stopped and renewed only in the late 1980s.
Today, about 15 monks live in the monastery. Since 1938, Vardzia has been a memorial estate.