Located just an hour away from the Georgian capital Tbilisi, Uplistsikhe fortress is one of the ancient cave towns in Georgia. Uplistsikhe is translated as “Lord’s fortress”. However, in pagan times Uplos was the local tribal leader and it is thought, that he built the fortress; as a demonstration of power. So, it has nothing to do with religion. According to the legend, the city was built by slaves. Their axes were made of half iron and half gold. So, if a slave worked hard and his axe’s iron was worn-out, he was gifted the gold and freedom.
The city consists of a diverse architecture, dating from the Early Iron Age to the Late Middle Ages. And like in any other town, there were variety of buildings for religious, social, governmental and other uses. So, Uplistsikhe was a major religious, political and cultural center.
Georgia is often called the cradle of wine. So there is no surprise, that plenty of remains of Kvevri (clay pot for wine) can be seen in Uplistsikhe. Locals explain the reason behind it. Apparently, when a baby was born, a family would fill up a new Kvevry with a wine and bury it. Then, when a child turned 16, family would donate kvevri full of wine to the church. In 9th century, St. George’s Byzantine-style basilica was built on the rock, without any foundation. It survived multiple earthquakes and it is fully functioning today. Archaeological excavations in Uplistsikhe revealed many unique items, which are displayed in the National Art Museum of Georgia.
In the ancient times, there were up to 700 caves in Uplistsikhe, but today, only 150 of them are left. Earthquakes and region’s mild rock structure are the main reason of damage. Most of the remaining caves are preserved in their original state. Marvelous halls, gates, cobble stone streets and squares, and secret tunnels make visitors feel transported to the glorious past of Georgia.