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Remarkable Cave City Needs Guardian Angels

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Shonnon
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« on: March 10, 2012, 10:16:32 pm »

Remarkable Cave City Needs Guardian Angels

Thu, Jan 12, 2012



Ruins of massive cave city in Europe a site to see, but needs help.
Remarkable Cave City Needs Guardian Angels

It is off the beaten path of world tourism. Unlike the great monuments of ancient Rome, Greece, Egypt, China and Mesoamerica, it sees comparatively fewer visitors. Yet if casual tourists or expeditionary scholars were to see it, they would likely say that it is every bit as impressive as the Roman Colosseum or the Pyramids of Giza. Built astride and into the sheer cliff face of a mountain, it resembles something of a hybrid of ancient Petra in Jordan and the Mesa Verde cliff dwellings of the U.S.....or, for those familiar with the Tolkien works, a Minas Tirith in ruins. Known as the cave city or monastery of Vardzia, it was dug into the side of Mount Erusheli near the town of Aspindza and the Mtkvari river in southern Georgia during the late 12th century. Today, it is a tourist destination for Georgians, Europeans and others throughout the world who know of its existence. But some of its remarkable remains will crumble away into oblivion if expert care and conservation is not realized in full.

Vardzia was the inspiration of Queen Tamar (pictured right in wall painting), who in 1185 A.D. ascended to the throne of what is today the eastern European country of Georgia. Staunchly Christian and a champion of the arts, she presided over a cultural renaissance in medieval Georgia, but faced a constant threat from the expanding Mongol Empire in the east. To protect the country's monastic tradition and her people from invading forces, she commissioned the construction of a massive underground monastic sanctuary that could only be accessed through a secret tunnel near the Mtkvari river near present-day Aspindza. It was a monumental undertaking, ultimately resulting in a colossal rock-cut monastery with 13 levels and 6,000 dwelling places for monks and those who were fleeing any invaders. The monks who inhabited the new underground city also created a terraced agricultural and irrigation system that fed those inside. In terms of food and water, it is regarded as perhaps the first eco-friendly, self-sustainable structure in Europe.



Having successfully frustrated the invading Mongols, the complex was considered impregnable. But nature did what humans could not in 1283 when a massive, cataclysmic earthquake destroyed much of Vardzia. What remained of the monastery continued for another 268 years until the invading Persians under Sash Tahmasp sacked and pillaged it, slaughtering the monks. It was left abandoned until the 20th century, when a small group of monks returned to the monastery. To this day, the site serves as both a monastery and a museum.

Vardzia, however, faces a new threat, particularly related to priceless wall paintings that adorn the interior of the Church of the Dormition, considered the focal point of the monastery. Here, wall paintings depicting images of the Virgin Mary, Queen Tamar, nationally revered saints and the Passion of Christ have deteriorated and faded due largely to past neglect and mismanagement. "Their condition is alarming", states an official of the British Georgian Society, a non-profit organization dedicated to cultural relations between the U.K and Georgia. "Much of the painting is difficult to decipher due to smoke blackening and unsympathetic repairs. Past cleaning has not recognised their fragility". [1]

Recent scientific study and examination have shown the paintings to be far more complex than previously thought, further inspiring a conservation movement to protect and restore the paintings as close as possible to their original luster. The National Agency for Cultural heritage preservation of Georgia, the Tbilisi State Academy of Arts, and the Courtauld Institute of Art  are collaborating to help preserve the wall paintings. Additional funding is being sought to facilitate the efforts.

The Courtauld will be raising half the necessary funding through their "Guardian Angel" program. Individuals who would like to help may contact Samuel Coote of the Courtauld Development Office at samuel.coote@courtauld.ac.uk, or for donations and sponsorship, Professor David Park, Director of the Conservation of Wall Painting Department at the Courtauld, at david.park@courtauld.ac.uk.
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Shonnon
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« Reply #1 on: March 10, 2012, 10:25:11 pm »

Pictorial of the Cave City of Vardzia



View of the Monastery of Vardzia. Courtesy Lidia Ilona, Flickr
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Shonnon
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« Reply #2 on: March 10, 2012, 10:25:59 pm »



Above left, cave murals (wall paintings) in Church of Dormitian, showing Queen Tamar (left) and father, King George III (right). Doron, Wikimedia Commons. Right, detail of Queen Tamar (left) and George III (right). This is the earliest surviving portrait of Tamar from the Church of the Dormition at Vardzia, c. 1184-1186  Kober, Wikimedia Commons
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Shonnon
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« Reply #3 on: March 10, 2012, 10:26:35 pm »



The Church of the Dormitian. Courtesy Henribergius, Flickr
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Shonnon
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« Reply #4 on: March 10, 2012, 10:27:13 pm »



Steep steps abound at Vardzia. Courtesy Henribergius, Flickr
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Shonnon
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« Reply #5 on: March 10, 2012, 10:27:46 pm »



Escape tunnel used by Vardzia residents to flee from invading Mongols. Courtesy Henribergius, Wikimedia Commons
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Shonnon
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« Reply #6 on: March 10, 2012, 10:28:24 pm »



Vardzia from the bell tower. Courtesy Henribergius, Wikimedia Commons
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Shonnon
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« Reply #7 on: March 10, 2012, 10:29:24 pm »



Full landscape view of Vardzia. Courtesy Wojciech Bijok, Wikimedia Commons.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

[1] http://britishgeorgiansociety.com/links/9-news/50-become-a-guardian-angel-of-vardzia

Cover Photo, Top Left: View of the Cave City of Vardzia. Lidia Ilona, Wikimedia Commons.

Photo, second from top, right: Wall Painting of Queen Tamar in the Church of the Dormitian, Vardzia. Wikimedia Co


http://popular-archaeology.com/issue/december-2011/article/remarkable-cave-city-needs-guardian-angels
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