Vardzia is a cave city that was founded by Queen Tamar in 1185. An earthquake in the 13th century destroyed about two thirds of it and exposed the caves to outside view. Before the earthquake nothing of the city could be seen from the outside, there were merely two entrances, one on each side.
These days a few monks still live there and the caves can be visited. Some of the frescoes are still preserved as is a spring inside the mountain.
The monastery was constructed as protection from the Mongols. and consisted of over six thousand apartments in a thirteen story complex. The city included a church, a throne room, and a complex irrigation system watering terraced farmlands.
The church was reinforced and an externally visible bell tower added during the reign of Beka Jakheli in the thirteenth century.
Persians commanded by Shah Tahmasp I raided the monastery in 1551, capturing all important icons and effectively ending the life of the monastery.