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Lavra Monastery

Some 60–70 km southeast of Georgia's capital Tbilisi on the semi-desert slopes of Mount Gareja, the David Gareji Monastery Complex is to be found. David Gareji is the collective name for 19 monasteries in this immediate area situated in a remote and truly barren part of eastern Georgia on (and in part over) the border with Azerbaijan. The Monastery of Lavra was developed around the location where the original complex was founded by St. David Garejeli (David) in the 6th century. David was one of thirteen Assyrian fathers who arrived in the country at the same time. Two of his disciples, Dodo and Luciane expanded the site at Lavra and also founded two other monasteries.

The monastery at Lavra includes hundreds of cells, churches, chapels and a variety of rooms of varying functions carved out of the sandstone rock face. The history of Lavra is one of both growth and decline, reflected in the various periods of Georgia's history. Upon entering the monastery, the tiered form of the complex becomes apparent, as does the full extent of it, which has been built in such a way as to be hidden by the contours of the surrounding landscape. The caves lower down in the complex are the earliest and where in the 6th century David chose a natural cave in which to live and worship. As the monastery expanded, it ultimately grew higher up the side of the mountain. On the side of the mountain, one can see channels and steps carved into the rock which form part of a system to allow the collection of water from a spring further up. Despite ongoing border disputes between Georgia and Azerbaijan, Lavra is in active use today as a monastery and despite its' remoteness, a popular destination for tourists and pilgrims.

Further up the mountain, a one hour hike from Lavra takes you to the monastery of Udabno, known for its unique wall paintings dating from the late 10th and early 11th centuries.  There is a warning in this area of poisonous snakes, so it is wise to take appropriate precautions. David Gareji Monasteries and Hermitage is currently (and deservedly) on a tentative list for UNESCO World Heritage status. [Text: August, 2015]

References/Further Reading:

Lonely Planet at

Georgia: A Sovereign Country of the Caucasus by Roger Rosen, Odyssey Publications


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