Pharmacy of Vardzia

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Vardzia cave monastery (fortress city) is interesting because of many reasons. It is located in southwest Georgia, in historic Meskheti. The site is carved in tiers, at the height of over 100 meters.  The number of tiers ranges from 3 to 13. It has over 600 storage spaces. There are cenacles, pantries, supplementarycells, 25 storage cellars, 185 kvevris.

The erection of Vardzia is related to the king Giorgi the third (1156-1184) – general plan of construction and its further refinement. At the time of his reign, houses and the church was to be carved near the spring. After his death (1184) the plan was partially modified in accordance with the instructions of the king Tamar. On August 15, 1185, the monastery was consecrated to Dormition of the Mother of God. At the time of the king Tamar’s rule (1184-1213), Vardzia played an important role in the cultural-educational and political life of the country.

According to the scientific literature, the layout of the caves are dived in three sections. The central part includes the relatively small group of densely arranged caves between the two arch stoas of the southern wall of the Church of the Dormition and the belfry. Here, below the belfry, there is a cave with winepress and a cenacle one floor below.

The second section, located to the west of the central part of the monastery is so called rock village of the earlier period (X-XII centuries)- Ananuri, which preserved interesting two floor rock house with garden and vineyard terraces, X century church with XVI century wall paintings, big tunnel of irrigation canal of 3,5 meters carved in rock and other important units.

The third section includes caves and downward tunnel located on the length of 150 meters to the east of the central part which has also been well preserved. There is a Monastery with refuge and its tunnel, so called “Tamar’s room”, meeting room, reception chamber and pharmacy, numerous wine cellars and well preserved cave dwellings.

The pharmacy is located on VI floor (15-20 m2 room). Its walls have 265 niches of the same size with horizontal bottom and crescent arches. Presumably each niche was designated for one healing solution. It seems that together with such a big pharmacy Vardzia also had a hospital. The opinion is verified by the big number (thousands) of monks and support personnel who lived on the nearby territory. The pharmacy equipment of this period is very diverse and include: Dishes, cups of various shapes, crushing bowls, double-bottom ceramic vessels, a clay pots with snake images, various crushers, copper boilers, scales of different sizes and so on. The pharmacy retained medicine in different forms: pills, powders, ointments, tablets, antidotes, activated charcoal and etc.

Without a doubt, a pharmacy existed not only in Vardzia. In upper Vardzia cave, which is in Mtkvari, valley of Erusheti mountains and is three kilometers away from the main section of Vardzia, there is a three room house of medicine, built in 1042-1058 during the rule of Liparit II Bagvashi.

The typikon of Vani’s Caves Monastery, composed in XIII century by Tmogvels has been preserved. The typikon reveals that there was an infirmary in Vani Caves, the statute of which envisaged the positions of healers, rules for caring for the sick and injured three times a day, for feeding them and carrying out other necessary tasks.

If Vani’s Caves Monastery (which is smaller than Vardzia) had the infirmary in its structure, even if it was functioning only for nuns, Vardzia must have had a bigger infirmary, which is also evidenced by the existence of its pharmacy. The abovementioned paragraph of the typikon is interesting, because it gives procedures for attending to the patients, which is not provided in any other historic sources or medical manuscripts of that period.

Later, the renowned Georgian doctor and public figure, Zaza Panaskerteli-Cicishvili also operated a similar pharmacy in his estates, which gives a feeling of tradition and special status.

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