Gyumri – Vardzia – Khertvisi – Brojomi – Caucasus tour
Last stop in Armenia, during our Caucasus tour – Gyumri City. It’s the second largest city in Armenia, right after the capital of Yerevan. Although it’s the second largest, it has only 120 thousand inhabitants. This city used to be full of life and the cultural capital of the region. However, on December 7, 1988, it was hit by the largest earthquake in the history of Armenia, which almost razed it to the ground. Thousands of people lost their lives then, not to mention those who lost the roof over their heads. The cause of such huge loss was the poor quality of the buildings. Gyumri’s fate was sealed due to high apartment buildings which were made of the cheapest materials in the seismically active area.
I don’t know what was the reason that I wanted to visit this town, because it’s certainly not a tourist place. I think it was my curiosity. I was wondering how it looked like after more than 30 years from this disaster. Unfortunately, Gyumri still hasn’t recovered yet, many buildings are still destroyed, however there’re some ongoing construction works.
Gyumri is located right next to the Georgia border. I honestly admit that I felt sorry to leave Armenia, but on the other hand, I was glad that we would finally be able to drive on normal roads. The roads in Armenia were a nightmare, not to mention drivers.
When planning a trip, I always take into account a time margin for unplanned events. I admit that in the case of Armenia, I underestimated the necessary time to cover particular distances. I realised that Armenian roads are far from German highways, but let me put it this way, driving a 200 km section of the route a day was a big challenge. On the other hand, the better sections on which we could make up for lost time were full, literally full of road cameras.
I knew Georgian roads from the previous trip, which is why I was convinced that further journey would be much less exhausting. Everything was going to be wonderful, outside the window an amazing, idyllic landscape, the sun was slowly setting.
We drove through a small border crossing in the village of Բավրայի մաքսային կետ, ok, I’m just kidding in the village of Bavra and suddenly the road turned into the Moon landscape. The asphalt looked like the Moon’s surface or Swiss cheese. To top it all off, there was 60 km per hour speed limit, I have to admit that it was a really good joke.
Actually, at 20 km per hour, the image stabilization in my phone failed 😉
However to my mind, the best was the bridge on the river 😉
At the end of an exciting day, we arrived at the hotel where the prize was waiting for us – an amazing sunset.
The next morning, we continued the journey. First stop – Khertvisi Fortress. Its amazing location on the slope of the rocky hill right next to the Kura River makes an amazing impression. On the other hand, its interior makes even bigger impression.
Khertvisi Fortress was destroyed many times in its long history, by Mongols, then the Turks, but now it’s being destroyed by the passage of time. Most people who visit this place are disappointed because inside you can only see the ruins of walls and fortified towers. I totally agree that it’s a pity that such a magnificent building has fallen into ruin, but in such a stark form it has even more charm for me.
Less than 20 minutes of drive from Chertwisi Fortress is Vardzia. From far away you can see the scale of this extraordinary rock city.
The rock city was created in the 12th century. Thanks to Queen Tamara, in the times of its greatness, there were more than 3 thousand caves located on 13 floors, combined with tunnels. The city could accommodate up to 60 thousand inhabitants which seems unbelievable.
Vardzia served mainly as a shelter from the Mongols invasion. You could only get into the city with hidden passages. There were supposedly 25 wine cellars, as well as various residential and utility rooms, stables or granaries.
At the central point of the rock city was the Church of Assumption, which we can also admire today. In addition to the church, there were also several other temples.
Unfortunately in 1283 Vardzia, like Gyumri was largely destroyed by an earthquake. The unveiled city was an easy target to attack. This was used by the Persians who completely ransacked Vardzia in the middle of the 16th century.
Currently, around 300 chambers and monastery are available for sightseeing. Admission costs 7 lari or around 10 PLN (data from 2018). It is important to remember that this is still a place of worship, so modest dress is obligatory: long pants or skirts and headscarves.
The last place on our route to Tbilisi was the famous Borjomi spa. Borjomi mineral water is probably the world’s most recognised Georgian product. It is healing water used for digestive system diseases and also recommended for hangover.
This spa blossomed in the times of the USSR, then it was a fashionable healing resort.
Currently, the times of greatness are over, but it’s still an interesting place to visit while being on the way. In my opinion, it is very similar to our Polish spas, even the buildings look familiar.