Vardzia is a cave monastery site in southern Georgia, excavated from the slopes of the Erusheti Mountain on the left bank of the Kura River, thirty kilometres from Aspindza. The main period of construction was the second half of the twelfth century. The caves stretch along the cliff for some five hundred metres and in up to nineteen tiers. The Church of the Dormition, dating to the 1180s during the golden age of Tamar and Rustaveli, has an important series of wall paintings. The site was largely abandoned after the Ottoman takeover in the sixteenth century. Now part of a state heritage reserve, the extended area of Vardzia-Khertvisi has been submitted for future inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The greater Vardzia area includes also the early eleventh-century church at Zeda Vardzia and the tenth- to twelfth-century rock village and cave churches of Ananauri. The main lower site was carved from the cliff's central stratum of tufaceous breccia at an elevation of thirteen hundred metres above sea level. It is divided into an eastern and a western part by the Church of the Dormition. In the eastern part of the complex are seventy-nine separate cave dwellings, in eight tiers and with a total of 242 rooms, including six chapels, "Tamar's Room", a meeting room, reception chamber, pharmacy, and twenty-five wine cellars; 185 wine jars sunk into the floor document the importance of viticulture to the monastic economy. In the western part, between the bell tower and the main church, are a further forty houses, in thirteen tiers and with a total of 165 rooms, including six chapels, a refectory with a bakery, other ovens for baking bread, and a forge. Beyond the bell tower the complex rises to nineteen tiers, with steps leading to a cemetery. Infrastructure includes access tunnels, water facilities, and provision for defence.