Perched on Sololaki Ridge overlooking Tbilisi is an indomitable presence. Its engulfing walls can be viewed from almost every point in the city as it draws your eyes upward. This is Narikala Fortress, a symbol of Tbilisi’s magnificent defensive history.
This ancient fortress was first established in the 4th century by the Persians who called it Shuris Tsikhe (the Rival Fortress). In the 7th-8th centuries, it was expanded by Arabs emirs who added their palace within the walls. The fortress then exchanged hands between Georgians and Turks before an earthquake destroyed most of it in 1827 and it was left for ruin.
Most of what stands today is from the 16th-17th centuries or is restored building. The best preserved tower stands in the southwest, a roofless turret from the 16th century that is known as Istanbul Tower. It was a prison during the Turkish occupation. On the west side, you can also see Shakhtakhti Tower which was an observatory during Arab rule.
Excavations revealed that a 12th century church once stood within Narikala. So in 1996, it was rebuilt as St. Nicholas Church with icons and frescoes painted inside.
While you’re up on Sololaki Ridge, you can also see the Kartlis Deda Statue, a symbol of Georgia’s strength and hospitality.
How to Get to Narikala Fortress
By Cable Car
The fastest and least strenuous way to get to the fortress is by taking the cable car from Rike Park. It is a short ride and you can get all the info here.
From Upper Betlemi Church: a short 7 minute walk to the Kartlis Deda Statue. Swing around to the left to get to Narikala Fortress.
From Saint George’s Armenian Cathedral: a steep climb on cobblestone steps but offers a nice view and you can stop at the Citadel Narikala Restaurant along the way. Takes less than 10 minutes.
If you walk down the opposite, south, side of the hill you’ll find the Tbilisi Botanical Garden on one side and the Sulfur Baths on the other. Or, there’s a zipline that will bring you down as well.
Take the metro to Liberty Square and walk from there. It’ll take about 20 minutes to walk the 1.2 km (0.7 mi).
Hours: the fortress is always open
Cost: Walking around the fortress itself is free. The only cost is if you take the cable car or drive as there is a small fee for parking.
Notes: If you decide to go inside the church, shoulders and knees should be covered.
If you want to beat the summer heat, visit at dusk when there is usually a light breeze. Also, the fortress is illuminated at night so you can witness the majestic glow of Tbilisi.