The monastery was built back in the 6th century by St. David Garejeli, who was one of the thirteen Assyrian monks, who according to Georgian Christian tradition were a group of monks from Mesopotamia who arrived in Georgia in the 6th century to strengthen the integration of Christianity. Many early Christian churches and monasteries are believed to have been founded by these monks. Amongst these the David Gareja Monastery.
It is truly fascinating for several reasons. Far out in the semi-desert between Georgia and Azerbaijan, the monastery seems to grow out of the rock, which in fact does. It is a massive complex with large parts hollowed out of the rock as caves, which are being used as cells, churches, chapels, refectories and living quarters hollowed.
It is really beautiful and after a short introduction of the complex by an in-house priest we were given free range to discover the place. Though I don’t think they had in mind that we would be crashing in on their living quarters. However, along with another girl I got lost somewhere midway attempting to reach the top of some rocks and before we knew it we were standing in front of a long line of caves. Happening upon one of them we found a Georgian priest reading at a desk before another came hurrying towards us indicating that we were not allowed here.
Sliding down the rock
The problem, however, was that since we had no idea how we got this far, we had no idea of how to get back. We ended up deciding on the shortest distance to the plateau where we entered, which meant that we zigzagged and nearly slid down the gravel covered mountain side, getting caught in the tons of dessert bushes. I can easily say that we saw parts of the David Gareja Monestary that tourists are not usually privy to.
Perhaps we even managed to cross over to Azerbaijan. The Monastery Complex is the cause of a territorial dispute between Georgia and Azerbaijan because it is divided by the border and parts of the ground are on Azeri soil. Georgia has offered other territories in return for the Azeri part of the complex, but Azerbaijan has refused claiming that no other border area has the same strategic position. And I go: What???
Furthermore, some historians from Azerbaijan have begun arguing that the place is in fact the very birth of the predecessor state to Azerbaijan, why it is culturally significant to the country. The very fact that there are no historic proof of this whatsoever makes me wonder if the word historian is perhaps used to widely these days.
David Gareja should be Georgian and Azerbaijan should concur simply because it is the right thing to do. Sometimes an act of kindness is worth much more even in international relations than anything else. And considering their ongoing dispute with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh they might consider let good neighbourly relations thrive with Georgia. But that is just my simple and naive opinion.