The Ancient Caves of Uplistsikhe, Fortress of the Lord

The Ancient Caves of Uplistsikhe, Fortress of the Lord

(Read the article on one page)

Uplistsikhe, whose name translates to 'Fortress of the Lord', is an ancient rock-hewn town which played a significant role in Georgian history over a period of approximately 3,000 years.  Archaeological excavations have revealed extraordinary artifacts dating from the late Bronze Age all the way up to the late Middle Ages.

The ancient cave city was built on a rocky bank of the Mtkvari River, approximately 15 kilometres east of the town of Gori. Between the 6 th century BC and 11 th century AD, Uplistsikhe was one of the most important political, religious, and cultural centres of pre-Christian Kartli, one of the predecessors of the Georgian state, and flourished until it was ravaged by the Mongols in the 13 th century.

The ancient rock city of Uplistsikhe

The ancient rock city of Uplistsikhe. Source: BigStockPhoto

Beginning its history in the 2 nd millennium BC, Uplistsike has been identified as one of the oldest urban settlements in Georgia. Back then, the complex was a very important cultural centre for pagan worship in the Kartli (Iberia) region. Archaeologists have unearthed numerous temples and findings relating to a sun goddess, worshipped prior to the arrival of Christianity.

When Christianity arrived in Georgia in the 4 th century AD, the city lost importance in favour of the new centres of Christian culture, most notably Mtskheta and Tbilisi. Nevertheless, life continued in Uplistsikhe. Christian structures were built, and for a short time Christianity and the old faith coexisted in the city. Following the Muslim conquest of Tbilisi in the 8 th and 9 th century AD, Uplistsikhe reemerged as a principal Georgian stronghold and became the residence of the kings of Kartli, during which the town grew to a size of around 20,000 inhabitants.

The cave city of Uplistsikhe

The cave city of Uplistsikhe. Source: BigStockPhoto

Uplistsikhe is remarkable for the unique combination of styles from rock-cut cultures of the region, most notably from Cappadocia (in modern Turkey) and Northern Iran. The ancient complex can be roughly divided into three parts: a lower, middle, and upper section covering an area of approximately 40,000 square meters. The middle part is the largest and contains the majority of the rock-hewn structures. It is connected to the lower section via a narrow rock-cut pass and a tunnel. Narrow alleys and sometimes staircases radiate from the central "street" to the different structures. On the upper level is a Christian stone basilica, dating from the 9 th-10th century.

The rock-cut structures include dwellings, a large hall, called Tamaris Darbazi, pagan places of sacrifice, and functional buildings, such as a bakery, a prison, cellars, and even an amphitheatre, all connected by footways and tunnels.

A map of the Uplistsikhe rock city

A map of the Uplistsikhe rock city. Source: Wikipedia

Most of the rock-cut structures are without any decorative elements, aside from some of the larger structures which contain some stone carvings, and there are several structures with ornately carved ceilings. Some of the larger structures also have niches in the back or sides, which are believed to have been used for ceremonial purposes.

Cave dwelling with remaining walls at Uplistsikhe

Cave dwelling with remaining walls at Uplistsikhe. Source: BigStockPhoto

Some of the fronts of the caves have been carved into house-like shapes with triangular roof peaks. In some areas you can tell there were columns standing from floor to ceiling, but they are nowhere to be seen anymore.

Dwelling with triangular roof peak

Dwelling with triangular roof peak. Photo source: Russian Traveling

Archaeological excavations have discovered numerous artifacts belonging to different time periods, including gold, silver and bronze jewellery, and samples of ceramics and sculptures. Many of these artifacts are in the safekeeping of the National Museum in Tbilisi.

The Uplistsikhe cave complex endured for around 3,000 years but finally met its destruction at the hands of the Mongols in the 13 th century. Since then, the site was virtually abandoned, used only occasionally as a temporary shelter in times of foreign invasions. It is now on the tentative list for inclusion into the UNESCO World Heritage program, and is a popular destination for tourists visiting Georgia.

Most of the unearthed artifacts can be seen at the National Museum in Tbilisi.

Featured image: The ancient cave city of Uplistsikhe. Photo source .

References:

Uplistsikhe Cave Town – UNESCO

UPLISTSIKHE CAVE TOWN – Atlas Obscura

Uplistsikhe Travel Guide – Virtual Tourist

Uplistsikhe - Ancient Cave Town in Georgia – Adventure Travels

By April Holloway

Comments

Looks like the cave in the codex

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Top New Stories

The Spirit of the Dead Keeps Watch’ (1892) by Paul Gauguin.
A belief in ghosts is held by many cultures (both modern and ancient) around the world. Some of these ghost beliefs are well-known, whilst others, such as those held by the Polynesians, are less so. In terms of geography, Polynesia covers a large area in the central and southern parts of the Pacific Ocean.

Myths & Legends

An image of Enki from the Adda cylinder seal.
In the belief system of the Sumerians, Enki (known also as Ea by the Akkadians and Babylonians) was regarded to be one of the most important deities. Originally Enki was worshipped as a god of fresh water and served as the patron deity of the city of Eridu (which the ancient Mesopotamians believe was the first city to have been established in the world). Over time, however, Enki’s influence grew and this deity was considered to have power over many other aspects of life, including trickery and mischief, magic, creation, fertility, and intelligence.

Human Origins

Detail of ‘God creating the Sun, the Moon and the Stars’ by Jan Brueghel the Younger.
Although most mainstream scientists and most of the developed world now accept the theory of evolution and the scientifically established age of Earth and the universe, there is still a group of people that resist the status quo and insist, based on a particular literal interpretation of Genesis 1-11 in the Hebrew Bible

Ancient Technology

Representation of an ancient Egyptian chariot.
The wheel can be considered mankind’s most important invention, the utility of which is still applied in multiple spheres of our daily life. While most other inventions have been derived from nature itself, the wheel is 100% a product of human imagination. Even today, it would be difficult to imagine what it would be like without wheels, since movement as we know it would be undeniably impossible.

Opinion

El Caracol Observatory at Chichen Itza (Wright Reading/CC BY-NC 2.0) and Composite 3D laser scan image of El Caracol from above
In 1526, the Spanish conquistador Francisco de Montejo arrived on the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico and found most of the great Maya cities deeply eroded and unoccupied. Many generations removed from the master builders, engineers, and scientists who conceived and built the cities, the remaining Maya they encountered had degenerated into waring groups who practiced blood rituals and human sacrifice.

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article