THE CAVE CITY OF VARDZIA AND UNCOMMON ARTISTS

 The famed cave monastery complex of Vardzia. 

The famed cave monastery complex of Vardzia. 

Vardzia, pictured above, is an entire medieval city made of caves carved into a cliff, which Queen Tamar turend into a monastery that housed around 2000 monks in the 12th century. It’s original construction contained 13 levels, hundreds of rooms and, of course, 25 wine cellars. Vardzia is a must-see if you go to Georgia. 

Lesser known is the women’s monastery, only a few kilometers from Vardzia, which only housed the male monks. There is a lovely little church there you can visit if you ask one of the nuns to let you in. Of note here is the nun’s famed embroidery work, which you can only purchase directly from them. I bought up about 10 of their funky little embroidered bags/pouches. The nun who sold them to me spoke perfect English and had no reservations about selling me their entire lot of bags. As she said with a big smile, “we’re always making more.” If you’re not going to Vardzia anytime soon and would like to add to your nun-blessed bag collection, you can buy one on the site. They’d make fantastic little Christmas presents with a story. 

 One of the embroidering nuns of Vardzia!

One of the embroidering nuns of Vardzia!

I also picked up a few modern takes on traditional Georgian hooded scarves, kabalakhi, from EthnoDesign in Vardzia. Our guide for this leg of the textile trip, Ano Shanshiavshvili, is the co-founder of this store, which showcases the handmade crafts and designs of artisans with whom she works through the Georgian Heritage Crafts Association. The mission of this association and its store is to safeguard local heritage craft traditions and employment of Georgian craft makers. 

 Our guide, Ano, at the women's monastery with a resident nun. 

Our guide, Ano, at the women's monastery with a resident nun. 

On the way to and from Vardzia we also stopped by the homes of some pretty incredible artisans and exceptional hosts. I’ll show rather than tell here. Let’s just say we drank a lot of homemade wine and made many rounds of progressively profound (intoxicated?) toasts. 

   
  
 
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    Traditional folk art wine vessels. The work of Giorgi Tatulashvili (ceramist) in Gori, third-generation maker of traditional ceramic wine vessels that are physics wonders in the birth place of Stalin. More photos from our visit and his studio below. This is the same studio in which his father and grandfather also worked. 

Traditional folk art wine vessels. The work of Giorgi Tatulashvili (ceramist) in Gori, third-generation maker of traditional ceramic wine vessels that are physics wonders in the birth place of Stalin. More photos from our visit and his studio below. This is the same studio in which his father and grandfather also worked. 

   
  
 
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    Matriarch and master weaver. She started a school to teach younger children in the village this dying art of rug weaving, and spoke zealously of her ambitions to apply for a grant for a new project. Endless energy, super inspiring. 

Matriarch and master weaver. She started a school to teach younger children in the village this dying art of rug weaving, and spoke zealously of her ambitions to apply for a grant for a new project. Endless energy, super inspiring. 

   
  
 
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    Rezo and his hand-carved stone faces. He’s a master carpenter and stone mason, as were his ancestors. He’s also a collector and ethnologist. Photos from his workshop and visit to his home below. 

Rezo and his hand-carved stone faces. He’s a master carpenter and stone mason, as were his ancestors. He’s also a collector and ethnologist. Photos from his workshop and visit to his home below. 

 Jordan entertaining our hosts and a horde of curious, local children. 

Jordan entertaining our hosts and a horde of curious, local children. 

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