Samtskhe-Javakheti (formerly Meskheti) is a region in southern Georgia, with Akhaltsikhe as its capital that consists of a majority Armenian population. Samtskhe-Javakheti comprises six administrative districts: Akhaltsikhe, Adigeni, Aspindza, Borjomi, Akhalkalaki and Ninotsminda. There are 5 municipalities, 6 townlets, 67 community and village sakrebulos (assemblies), and 268 villages in the region. It is bordered by Guria and Imereti to the north, Kartli (Shida Kartli and Kvemo Kartli) to the north-east and to the east, Armenia and Turkey to the south and Ajara to the west. The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline and the South Caucasus natural gas pipeline pass through this region
Two of the major tourist attractions are the cave monasteries of Vardzia (which was founded by Queen Tamar in 1185) and Vanis Kvabebi (which dates from the 8th century). They are located near the town of Aspindza.
The Cave City of Vardzia is a cave monastery dug into the side of the Erusheli mountain in southern Georgia near Aspindza. It was founded by Queen Tamar in 1185.
The monastery was constructed as protection from the Mongols. and consisted of over six thousand apartments in a thirteen story complex. The city included a church, a throne room, and a complex irrigation system watering terraced farmlands. The only access to the complex was through some well hidden tunnels near the Mtkvari river.
An earthquake in Samtskhe destroyed approximately two thirds of the city in 1283, exposing the caves to outside view and collapsing the irrigation system.
The church was reinforced and an externally visible bell tower added during the reign of Beka Jakheli in the thirteenth century.
Persians commanded by Shah Tahmasp I raided the monastery in 1551, capturing all important icons and effectively ending the life of the monastery.
In the modern days Vardzia is a major tourist attraction in the Samtskhe-Javakheti region of Georgia. The place is maintained by a small group of monks and can be visited for a small fee. Marshrutkas go to Vardzia daily from the city of Akhaltsikhe. About three hundred apartments and halls remain visitable and in some tunnels the old irrigation pipes still bring drinkable water.
Vanis Kvabebi (English Vani's Caves) is a cave monastery in Samtskhe-Javakheti region of Georgia near Aspindza town and the more famous cave city of Vardzia. The complex dates from 8th century and consists of a defensive wall built in 1204 and a maze of tunnels running on several levels in the side of the mountain.
There are also two churches in the complex. A newer stone church that is in quite good shape stands near the top of the wall, and a smaller, domed church is clings from the rock on the level of the highest tunnels.