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Uplistsikhe, The ‘Lord’s Fortress’ in Georgia

Ann Moises

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  • Uplistsikhe is one of Georgia’s ancient cave towns located just an hour away from Tbilisi.
  • From the 6th century BC to 1st century AD, Uplistsikhe was a major religious, political, and cultural center.
  • It was once home to the Christian kings of Kartli.
  • A 9th-10th Christian basilica, Uplistsulis Eklesia or the Prince’s Church, sits on top of the cave complex, built over Uplistsikhe’s most important pagan temple.

Founded in the late Bronze age at approximately 1000 BC, Uplistsikh is an abandoned rock-hewn town located in eastern Georgia. The name literally means ‘Lord’s Fortress.’

The enormous cave town became one of the most significant political and religious centers of pre-Christian Kartli. It likewise housed temples for the sun goddess.

The Christian kings of Kartli took residence in Uplistsikhe in 645 AD, after the Arabs occupied the capital. Moreover, it was a vital trade center on a main caravan road from Europe to Asia.

In its heyday, at least 20,000 people once lived there.

However, Uplistsikhe saw its downfall when King David the builder recaptured Tbilisi in 1122. Then the Mongols irrevocably destroyed the city in 1240.

Ultimately, the people abandoned the cave town.

What remains to this day is the 40,000 sq. meter Shida Qalaqi or Inner City. It is only less than half of its original size.

The cave town can be divided into three sections or areas: the lower, central, and upper area.

A narrow tunnel connects the lower and the central area. The central area contains majority of the rock-cut structures, most of which are devoid of decorations except for some larger structures with its stone carvings. Most of the archeological finds have been discovered here since 1957, wrote the Lonely Planet.

According to UNESCO, archeologists uncovered extraordinary artifacts like stunning jewelry of gold, silver, and bronze as well as remarkable samples of ceramics and sculptures. Most of the artifacts are on display at the National Museum of Tbilisi.

A 9th-10th century Christian basilica, Uplistsulis Eklesia or the Prince’s Church, sits on top of the cave complex.

The church, which still exists today, was built over a sun temple used for animal sacrifices.

The rock-cut structures in this amazing cave complex include a large hall called Tamaris Darbazi (Hall of Queen Tamar). There were sites for pagan sacrifices, lodgings, and functional edifices such as a pharmacy, bakery, an amphitheatre, and a prison as well.

Tunnels link the structures, though some tunnels served as an emergency escape route.

Only 150 are left from the 700 caves in Uplistsikhe since the old days. But at least the remaining structures have been preserved to their original state, and tourists can still have a glimpse of the past.

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