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Udabno, Georgia

Davit Gareja Cave Monastery

Rock-hewn monastery complex with hundreds of cave structures tucked away into the mountainside 

Davit Gareja is a rock-hewn Orthodox monastery in Eastern Georgia.

Hundreds of cells, churches, refectories and living quarters have been hewn into the rock face at the steep slopes of Mount Gareja. Saint David, an Assyrian Monk, founded the monastic complex in the 6th century and it was steadily expanded during the following centuries.

The monastery complex has been an important center of religious and cultural activity for hundreds of years and this reached its height between the 11th and 13th centuries. The monastery complex was always closely linked with the royalty of Georgia, but the downfall of the Georgian monarchy did not put an end to the monastic activities at Davit Gareja. Neither did the attacks by the Mongols in the 13th century, or the attacks of the Persians in the 17th century.

It wasn’t until the Bolshevik takeover in 1921 that the monastery was closed down and became deserted. During the late Soviet years the monastery became a training ground for the Soviet War in Afghanistan and this caused considerable damage to the murals within the complex and caused a public outcry among Georgians. When Georgia restored its independence, the monastery was revived and it is once again a center of religious activity as well as an important destination for pilgrims and tourists alike. The inside of the cave structures has been covered with numerous artistic and colourful murals, a number of which have survived the test of time.

Since the Soviet border-drawing process did not have any regard for cultural borders, especially when religious heritage was involved, today parts of the monastery complex are technically located within Azerbaijan and this has sparked a minor border dispute between the two countries. Given the religious and cultural importance of Davit Gareja, Georgians have stated it to be unacceptable that the site would be split between two countries, and have offered a land swap, but a final agreement has yet to be achieved.

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