I was surprised to see Ujarma fortress listed under Tbilisi attractions, because it’s actually situated in about 45km from Tbilisi, on the hill by Tbilisi-Telavi highway running towards Gombori Pass.
Ujarma has a beneficial sitting atop of the hill above the Iori River valley. The views over the valley and the countryside were probably less scenic in winter, when we were there, still lovely.
Most guidebooks had barely mentioned a few words about this historically important place, so I had to do a post factum research.
The chronicles describe an early settlement in Ujarma dating III century. In the second half of the V century it was significantly strengthened by Iberian (Kartli) king Vakhtang I “Gorgasali” (“Wolf’s Head”) who moved his royal residence here. In IV-VI centuries and up till about X, when it was ruined by the Arabs, Ujarma was one of the most important cities and fortresses of Georgia, and the strongest fortified city of the East-Georgian state of Kartli. It was exactly here that King Vakhtang I was transferred to and soon died from the wounds received in a fight with an invading Sassanid army in VI century (and was later interred at the Svetitskoveli Cathedral in Mtskheta).
The fortified city of Ujarma consisted of two parts: the Upper Fortress (the Citadel) and the Lower City. As we were sadly short of time, I have only glanced at what was left within the Citadel. The Upper Fortress was restored in XII century by King George III who used it as a treasury.
The ruins of the Gorgasal’s royal palace and of the small Jvari Patiosani Church (of the Fair Cross) and also of few defensive towers can still be found there. Not much is left from the Lower City, descending the slope down to the river. One of the towers was obviously the one known as the “Water Tower” for its access to the Iori River, the then main source of water supply to the city.
Unless you are keen in ancient Georgia history, this is hardly one of those attractions that you will go specifically for. The whole place is in devastated condition, and you need a good historian to enlighten you about its remarkable past.
But considering that this is the significant, if not the best, monument of the medieval Georgian fortified architecture, Ujarma is surely worth a stopover on your way to Telavi. Entrance is free.
P.S. Ujarma is also known for it was exactly here that Saint Nino has established one of the three crosses to mark the arrival of Christianity to Georgia (the other two were established in Mtskheta and on Mount Thoti).
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