25 km from Gardabani, the suburb of Rustavi , there is another original Georgian monument which equals such masterpieces of the world legacy as Vardzia rocky monastery, the cave city of Uplistsikhe , and Ushguli village – the grandiose complex of cave monasteries David Gareja. This monument is known all over the world for its exclusiveness and originality.
David Gareja complex comprises hundreds of in-rock premises – temples, cells, warehouses, rooms etc. This cave complex is located in Gare Kakheti and stretches 25 km along the semidesert slopes of the Gareja range representing a majestic view. All in all there were found 14 monastic complexes constructed at various times – David’s Monastery, Mokhatuli, Tsamebuli, Natlis-Mttsemeli, Djdjs Rka and others. Historically the beginning of the complex is related to the first half of the 6 th century when one of the 13 Syrian Fathers named David (he and his pupils were buried in David Gareja) made a solitary Gareja cave his home and soon founded the first monastery there – David’s Monastery. In the same century his pupils Dodo and Lukyan founded another two monasteries – Dodos Rka and Natlis-Mttsemeli.
In the 11 th century David’s Monastery was expanded with a terraced court yard, new cells, the refectory and the church. Soon afterwards the pool, channels and reservoirs were added. In the 11 th – 13 th centuries David Gareja reached its highest level of development. At that time new monasteries – Udabno, Bertubani andChichlhituri were erected. During the period which coincides with the consolidation of Georgia the churches received their remarkable frescos. The original in color and techniques frescos of the cave monasteries David-Gareja show religious themes. Some of frescos represent portraits of historical figures – David the Builder (in Natlis-Mttsemeli), Queen Tamara (in Bertubani), Dimitri the Self-Sacrificer (in Udabno). In the 12 th century David-Gareja turns into the cultural and educational centre of entire eastern Georgia . In the 13 th century, during Mongolian invasions, the monasteries were plundered and destroyed.
During its centuries-old existence the monastic complex David-Gareja underwent numerous destructions but managed to survive and played the essential role in spiritual development of the country. The last restoration of the complex is dated late 17 th century. The temples, the court yard, and the refectories were restored. But beginning from the 19 th century in connection with appearance of spiritual and secular schools in cities of Georgia David Gareja lost its significance. In the second half of the 19 th century the monasteries were practically abandoned.
Still active David Gareja is an outstanding sample of architecture – due to its grandiose sizes and historical and artistic value it occupies a special place among the monuments of material culture of Georgia.
It might be interesting to know about the greatest relic kept in David Gareja – the stone brought by David from his pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Having reached Jerusalem, David experienced such an awe that did not dare to enter the city; so he picked up 3 stones and went back. Same night the tsar dreamed that somebody had taken away all spiritual force from Jerusalem . Soldiers found David and took 2 stones from him. The third one was brought to Georgia . Now this stone, one third of the spiritual power of Jerusalem is stored in the Zion Cathedral in Tbilisi; it is brought to David Gareja only for special ceremonies.