Three kilometers away from the main Vardzia complex lies the village of Upper Vardzia, itself an excellent example of the type of cave dwellings that can be found dotting this region of southern Georgia. The Dormition of the Virgin Church, which houses an active convent since 1998, is the main landmark of the village.
The Dormition of the Virgin Church dates back to the 9-11th centuries CE, a fact which is confirmed by the inscription in Asomtavruli, the oldest Georgian script at the entrance.
The interior of the convent was certainly richly decorated, something we know from the traces of wall art left on the walls; however, very little pieces of it survived to the present day. While the church has now been completely restored, much of its original beauty lives on only in hints.
Like many Georgian churches, this one has a hidden four-meter-long tunnel and hiding holes, where the holy items were kept during invasions.
Notable icons that once called the church home include those of the Mother of God and of St. Nicholas.
The Vardzia Mother of God Icon was the icon that Queen Tamar prayed to for the victory of the Georgian army before the Battle of Basiani in 1202. The resulting victory at Basiani saved the country from a great tragedy, and although the original icon was lost in the 16th century, its copy was made in the 19th century and is now kept at the State Art Museum.
The church's second important holy item is the wonder-working, myrrh-producing icon of St. Nicholas, which has been kept at the church for twelve years.
Every nook and cranny of the convent looks simple and aesthetically pleasant. Even though the Samtskhe-Javakheti region has a rather severe climate, the yard is covered with flowers. Here the nuns will tell you about growing flowers, teach you how to make candles, and, most importantly, let you see their handiwork – gold and silk sewing and embroidery created using an ancient Georgian method.
Nowadays the door to the convent is always open, so why not pay the convent a visit as part of your trip to Vardzia?