The Ancient Caves of Uplistsikhe — Fortress of the Lord
Uplistsikhe, whose name translates to ‘Fortress of the Lord’, is an ancient rock-hewn town which played a significant role in Georgian history over a period of approximately 3,000 years. Archaeological excavations have revealed extraordinary artifacts dating from the late Bronze Age all the way up to the late Middle Ages.
The ancient cave city was built on a rocky bank of the Mtkvari River, approximately 15 kilometers east of the town of Gori. Between the 6 th century BC and 11 th century AD, Uplistsikhe was one of the most important political, religious, and cultural centers of pre-Christian Kartli, one of the predecessors of the Georgian state, and flourished until it was ravaged by the Mongols in the 13 th century.
The city consists of a diverse architecture, dating from the Early Iron Age to the Late Middle Ages. And like in any other town, there were the variety of buildings for religious, social, governmental and other uses. So, Uplistsikhe was a major religious, political and cultural center.
The complex is almost inaccessible from the river side. A 30-meter shaft that tunnels almost vertically down through the mountain, provided a secret entrance and escape route during times of danger. Although the city has been ravaged by invaders, earthquakes, and the weather, it still contains a number of impressive public buildings.
The city is divided into three parts: south (lower), middle (central) and north (upper) covering an area of approximately 8 hectares. The middle part is the largest and is connected to the southern part via a narrow rock-cut pass and a tunnel. Narrow alleys and several staircases radiate from the central “street” to the different structures.
Archaeological excavations have revealed extraordinary artifacts of different eras: beautiful gold, silver and bronze jewelry and magnificent examples of ceramics and sculptures. These are no longer on site and are displayed in the National Museum of Tbilisi. The majority of the caves are devoid of any decorations but there are columns and beams carved from the sandstone rock.
Uplistsikhe is now a UNESCO-recognised site and, in conjunction with financial aid from the World Bank, the Georgian government is working hard to protect it from further damage.
Uplistsikhe is important because of the combination of pagan and Christian evidence linked to it. Situated just a few kilometers from the ancient Silk Road route, Uplistsikhe was a major trading center and is a place where the archaeology demonstrates strong links with Asia Minor, Armenia, and Iran, amongst others. Uplistsikhe had been a city before the days of Genghis Khan, and now it is destroyed. Here are fabulous monuments carved out of rock, likewise, rock-cut grand halls and a long tunnel leading to the waters of the Mtkvari. To the west there is a sheer cliff: one can imagine troops armed with bows and spears and cavalry coming out of the caves and marching to the battlefields. The site is said to be an oracle.
How to get there? Uplistsikhe is a 30-minute drive from the town of Gori and is 85 kilometers from Tbilisi. Regular buses leave Tbilisi’s Didube bus station for Gori, (the trip takes about an hour), and taxis are available in Gori to take you to Uplistsikhe.
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