Altogether there are over 400 rooms, 13 churches and 25 wine cellars, with many more still being discovered today.
Its inhabitants lived in rock-hewn dwellings ranging over 13 floors, a scale almost impossible to imagine at the time. A major earthquake in 1283 shook away the outer walls of many caves and the cave city began its long decline. In 1551 the Georgians were defeated by the Persians in a battle in the caves themselves, and Vardzia was looted. Since the end of Soviet rule Vardzia has again become a working monastery, with some caves inhabited by monks (and cordoned off to protect their privacy).
Guides, available at the ticket office, don’t speak English but they have keys to some passages and caves that you can’t otherwise enter.