A cave town with a lot of steps

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June, 2023

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The UNESCO site of Uplistsike, literally ‘the lord’s fortress’, is a rock-hewn town in eastern Georgia, around 10km east of the town of Gori, the birthplace of Stalin.

The town’s history dates back to the 1st half of the 1st millennium BC when it was an important religious, political and cultural centre but it was in its heyday during the 9th – 11th centuries.

According to an information board and map at the entrance, the 8-hectare site comprised of a main road, with several halls, including a ‘Nice Hall’, a wine cellar and wine press, apothecary and basilica, as well as living quarters and premises for communal living where 20,000 people would have once lived.

To reach the ancient caves, there were a lot of steps, and I mean a lot, although it was a well-built staircase, with good handrails, and as it was quiet, we had frequent stops to ‘admire the view’. Just as we arrived at the top, where our position was totally exposed, there was a brief sandstorm, and I was pleased I wore glasses as others struggled with gritty eyes.

We toured the various caves carved out of the rock, which required walking along steep paths or in deep gullies whilst trying to avoid both small and large holes where poles for awnings or roof structures once stood. Although we had a guide, I found it hard to imagine how the site would have looked and to keep the map’s layout in my head.

At the very top was a church which we didn’t climb up to, as it was said to be new and of no historic interest.

Our guide asked whether we were ok in confined spaces and having checked what his interpretation of ‘confined’ was and established it didn’t involve crawling on hands and knees, we were led back down via a secret tunnel. Whilst this inevitably involved lots more steps, it was more direct, and we didn’t have to retrace our journey. The tunnel led down to the Mtkvari River, which would have served both as an emergency escape route and a way of carrying water up to the city.

If you are not particularly mobile, this is one visit I would avoid.

Helen Jackson

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