Tmogvi Fortress near Vardzia

Tmogvi Fortress (Georgian: თმოგვის ციხე) is a citadel located near the village of Tmogvi, Aspindza Municipality, in the Samtkhe-Javakheti Region of Georgia. It is believed that the name "Tmogvi" is derived from the Georgian word mogvi (მოგვი), meaning "pagan priest".

The nearest attraction to Tmogvi Fortress is Vardzia, a well-known cave town located just 12 kilometers away.The fortress itself is situated on top of a huge rocky massif on the left bank of Mtkvari River, also known as the Kura River. Ascending the cliff and reaching the ruins is not easy, but if you are up for an adventure, your efforts will be rewarded with astonishing views of the surrounding gorge.

Tmogvi Fortress History

Although the exact date of the fortress’ construction is unknown, Tmogvi Fortress is first mentioned in 10th-century sources. The fortress was built to control and defend the ancient trade route between Javakheti Plateau and a gorge formed by the Kura River. An 11th-century Georgian historian narrates that in 914, the Arab commander Abu al-Qasim invaded eastern Georgia and Samtskhe-Javakheti. He also tried to gain control over Tmogvi Fortress, but failed.

In the late 10th and early 11th centuries, the fortress came under direct control of the unified Kingdom of Georgia. In 1073, King George II bequeathed the fortress to the recalcitrant feudal lord Nyania Kuabulisdze, whose family was killed in an earthquake in 1089. Throughout the ensuing centuries, Tmogvi Fortress was ruled by various feudal families, including the Torels, Mkhargrdzelis, Shalikashvilis and Jakels.

In 1576-1578, ongoing clashes among the Meskhetian aristocracy were carried out under the leadership of the warring leaders Shalikashvili and Manuchar Atabagi. The war was marked by a fierce battle in the Tmogvi area, which at that time was mostly controlled by Shalikashvili. Manuchar Atabagi raided the city of Tmogvi, along with other Georgia fortresses and outposts, and won control of the citadel. In 1578, the Ottomans entered Samtskhe, and Manuchar Atabagi surrendered Tmogvi to Lala-Pasha, after which it became part of the Ottoman political-administrative unit of Akhalkalaki Liva.

After the Russo-Ottoman War in 1828-1829, the Ottomans ceded Tmogvi Fortress and other Georgian territories to Russia in accordance with the 1829 Treaty of Adrianople. During the 18th century, the population of Tmogvi decreased. Its old glory faded, and according to the Georgian royal prince, geographer, historian, and cartographer Vakhushti Batonishvili (1696–1757): "Tmogvi was a city, but now it is a small town." Due to the effects of time, wars, the elements and several strong earthquakes, the fortress now lays in ruins and requires extensive restoration.

On November 7, 2006, Tmogvi Fortress was inscribed on the list of Georgia's Immovable Cultural Monuments of National Significance.

Interesting Facts

In 1953, an 11th-century Byzantine copper coin was accidentally discovered in the northwestern corner of Tmogvi Fortress and bequeathed to the individual who found it. In 1962, a copper coin bearing the image of Byzantine Emperor Constantine 9th (1042-1055) was also found unexpectedly near the Tmogvi ruins and is now kept in the Georgian National Museum. These discoveries highlight the strong trade ties that the Georgian people once had with the Byzantine Empire.


Tmogvi Fortress, like many castles in Georgia, is built on a tall, rocky mountain. Sprawled across 3 hills, it is bordered by walls which vary in height due to the uneven landscape. The fortress is inaccessible from the south and southwest.

On the top of the hill are the ruins of the stronghold. To the west, fortress walls line the sloping cliff, the middle wall of which was built for combat purposes. The southeastern walls lean into a cave in which there is a secret tunnel that connects the castle with the river, which provided access to water in the event of a siege. The Georgia castle has two entrances, one from the south and one from the north, with a connecting ridge to the western and eastern valleys.

Several remnants may be found inside the fortress, including ruined towers a top the cliffs, fragments of 13th-century frescoes and a quadrangular building made of tuff and sitting on a basalt foundation, believed to have been a church. Outside the walls on the western side are the ruins of the church of Saint Ephrem.

Hiking Options

There are two ways to reach Tmogvi Fortress. After crossing a little pedestrian bridge near Tmogvi village, you can choose either a footpath or a dirt road. The footpath follows a steep ascent to the fort, joining with the dirt road before veering off into a little path which leads to the fortress. The dirt road, suitable for cars, starts at the village and passes near the fortress before running down the slope and into the valley. This latter option is the easier of the two, but also more time-consuming.

Although ascending the cliff and reaching the fortress ruins is not easy, the views from the top are simply breathtaking. Allow several hours to visit Tmogvi Fortress and to enjoy the magnificent landscapes of the gorge which unfold before your eyes.