The cave city of Uplistsikhe in Georgia near the city of Gori is one of the oldest settlements of mankind and was once an important trading centre on the Silk Road. On an area of 8 hectares, about 700 rooms, halls and cellar vaults were carved out of the soft sandstone.
The cave town of Uplistsikhe ("Fortress of the Lord") is the oldest of the three ancient rock settlements in Georgia, along with Wardzia and the David Garedji monastery complex, and is located about 10km from Gori, the birthplace of Stalin.
On an area of about 8 hectares, rooms, halls and tunnels were dug into the soft sandstone above the Kura River centuries before Christ. Uplistsikhe is on the candidate list for UNESCO World Heritage Site.
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PICTURES: Cave town Uplistsikhe
Original wine on the Silk Road
The Uplistsikhe rock plateau was founded as early as the Bronze Age and was settled by humans from the 16th century BC. It is thus one of the earliest settlements in the world. Uplistsikhe gradually became an important trading centre on the famous Silk Road and a royal city of the Kartli rulers with up to 20,000 inhabitants and 700 rock buildings.
Georgia can also be considered the original home of wine; the vine was considered by the population to be the tree of life and abundance and many diseases were treated with wine. In 337, Christianity entered Georgia and many of the pagan temples and places of worship were destroyed or converted.
Even at first glance, the stone fronts of Uplistsikhe appear like a mighty fortress. A 40-metre-long tunnel to the Mtkwari River ensured the population's water supply even during sieges. The stone city withstood attempts at conquest many times, but it was not until the 13th century that the Mongol ruler Ögedei Khan succeeded in destroying Uplistsikhe, thus initiating the demise of the once important cave city.
On the road in Uplistsikhe
Some 150 rooms, wine cellars, halls with their columns and round arches, including roads, sewers and water supply tunnels, have been preserved to this day and can be visited.
The dwellings were rooms simply hewn out of the soft rock and entered through arched gateways. Inside, the rooms were supported by pillars and vaults. In the meantime, some of them have been reinforced with concrete pillars in the course of the restoration of the cave city.
Uplistsikhe also had a bakery, a pharmacy, an amphitheatre as a remnant of the Greek soldiers, a market and a prison, and sacrificial sites with animal remains were also discovered.
Towering over Uplistsikhe is the mighty structure of the Christian princely church from the 10th century, in which gold, silver and bronze jewellery, as well as sculptures and ceramics have been found, some of which can now be seen in the National Museum of Tbilisi. Its interior is decorated with elaborate frescoes, most of which, however, were covered over with white paint by the communist occupation and could not be saved.
The other buildings are mostly without any ornamentation. Next to the church, the Tamaris Darbasi is the most impressive building in Uplistsikhe. The huge rock hall is the largest structure in the cave town and is supported by two enormous columns.
Tip: On arrival in Uplistsikhe, you will almost automatically be found by a guide who will explain the historical background of the fascinating site. Never accept the first offer right away, but negotiate the price!
Uplistsikhe can be reached by taxi or bus from Gori. There is no signposted bus stop road for the return to Gori. It is best to move along the main road until you meet a group of waiting people.