Georgia is home to some visually amazing places and Uplistsikhe, the city carved in stone, is no exception!
Uplistsikhe literally translates to “Lord’s Fortress.” It was established during the Bronze Age around 1000 BC and was continuously inhabited up until the 13th century AD.
The city thrived during pre-Christian times and was the political and religious hub for the Kingdom of Iberia (aka Kartli). Archaeologists have found many temples related to a sun goddess that was worshipped during this time. But as Christianity began to spread in the 4th century AD, the importance of Uplistsikhe declined in favor of cities like Mtskheta and Tbilisi.
Uplistsikhe quietly continued its existence, adapting to Christianity and building basilicas. From the 8th – 10th centuries, while the Muslim conquest was happening in Tbilisi, Uplistsikhe became the residence of the kings of Kartli. This led to a brief revival of the town. However, the Mongol invasion in the 14th century marked its ultimate collapse. The city was abandoned after that.
Visiting Uplistsikhe From Tbilisi & Gori
Distance: Uplistsikhe is 84 km (52 mi) northeast of Tbilisi.
By Car: It takes about 1.5 hours by car from Tbilisi.
Private Tour: A private transport tour costs around 50 – 60 GEL/person ($16.08–19.29) to visit Gori and Uplistsikhe.
By Marshrutka: Most will visit Gori along with Uplistsikhe. The best way is to go from Tbilisi to Gori (1.5 hrs) for 4 GEL ($1.29). Busses leave every hour between 7am – 8pm from Didube station.
Then go from Gori to Uplistsikhe (25 min) for 1 GEL ($0.32). They leave every half past the hour until 6pm. Make you mention that you are going to Uplistsikhe. Otherwise, they will drop you in the nearby village 1.5 km (1 mi) away. You can also hire a private taxi from Gori to Uplistsikhe for 20 – 25 GEL ($6.43–8.04). This is the price for a roundtrip including wait time.
To get back, just look for the marshrutka outside the main gate in the parking area. It will take you to the Gori bus station.
Getting Around: The marshrutka will drop you off across the river from the cave city. From there it’s a short 10 minute walk over the bridge to the entrance.
Amount of Time to Visit: The main (and really only) attraction here is the cave city. 1-2 hours should be enough time to tour the grounds. If you do end up in the nearby village, the Cave Complex of Kvakhvreli is worth visiting.
The grounds of Uplistsikhe can be divided into 3 sections: lower (south), middle (central), and upper (north), carved into the soft volcanic stone of the mountainside. They are connected by a series of winding alleyways. As you walk, envision the grandiose halls, temples, and houses that once existed here. At its peak, 20,000 people roamed this city.
Unfortunately, much of Uplistsikhe has been destroyed – either by the Mongols or by the earthquake in 1920. However, there are pockets that are remarkably well-preserved including a 10th century church atop the hill.
Make sure you also leave time for the museum inside the site. There are photos and artifacts housed there.
Hours: 10am – 5pm
Cost: 7 GEL ($2.25) for entry. 25 GEL ($8.04) for a guide. 10 GEL ($3.22) for audio guide.
Notes: There are a couple of small cafés around but nothing too substantial. It’s recommended that you bring food and water with you since there are nice areas for a picnic. A free toilet can be found inside the entrance. The one near the entrance has a small fee.