European experts publish technical report on the rehabilitation of the David Gareji Monasteries and Hermitages in Georgia

Europa Nostra, the voice of cultural heritage in Europe, and the European Investment BankInstitute today published a technical report on the rehabilitation of the David Gareji Monasteries and Hermitages in Georgia, listed among the 7 Most Endangered heritage sites in Europe in 2018 following a nomination made by the Georgian Arts and Culture Center, the country representation of Europa Nostra in Georgia.
The David Gareji Monasteries and Hermitages are some of the most important cultural and religious heritage landmarks in Georgia. The site is comprised of 22 rock-hewn monasteries and more than 5,000 sanctuaries and cave-cells located in Eastern Georgia and partly extends into neighbouring Azerbaijan.

From 6-9 November, a mission to Georgia was undertaken by representatives of Europa Nostra, the European Investment Bank Institute and the Georgian Arts and Culture Center to devise a report on the current state of the site, as well as recommendations for future actions. The heritage and financial experts who visited the site met with local, national and transnational authorities, representatives of civil society, professionals and other stakeholders, with the aim of mobilising efforts towards saving this masterpiece of Georgian and European culture. These included meetings with Mr. Nikoloz Antidze, Head of the National Agency for the Preservation of the Cultural Heritage of Georgia; Mr. Carlo Natale, the Deputy Head of the European Union Delegation in Georgia; Father Kirion, the ecclesiastical representative of the Lavra Monastery; Mr. George Erbotsonashvili, the Mayor of Sagarejo; Mr. Mikhael Giorgadze, the Deputy Minister of Education, Science, Culture and Sports; Ms. Mercy Tembon, World Bank Regional Director for the South Caucasus and; Mr. Tengo Gogotishvili, the Head of the Regional Development projects.

There are two main threats to the site that can be identified:

Degradation of the physical structure and the artworks: Due to the seismic risk, water percolation, the soft and porous nature of the limestone rocks in which the monasteries were hewn, the structure is liable to crumble when exposed to cycles of heat and cold. This has a detrimental effect on the artwork on the interior walls, once the cavity is no longer sheltered by the overarching slabs of stones.

Vandalism and graffiti: Continued unlawful practices such as taking souvenirs and graffiti have contributed to the degradation of the site. The sheer size of the site unfortunately makes this difficult to control, since providing security for the whole complex is rather unrealistic. An increase in visitors might lead to a sense of social pressure, in turn discouraging this type of behaviour.

Even though these threats will most likely continue to exist, the expert panel has recommended some actions that could at the very least slow down the further degradation of the site:

• In the interest of avoiding a superficial intervention, the most feasible step forward would be to prioritise the sites that are at the greatest risk. With so many sites, each with its own physical characteristics, historical values, archaeological risks, and limited short term resources, it would be impossible to guarantee protection for each of them.

• In the short term, the structural stability of each cave site, or lavra, needs to be assessed through geo- structural analysis. This is not only necessary to decide on any future conservation efforts, but also to guarantee safe access for the workers.

• Safe access to the sites is also needed to set up preliminary security systems to both monitor their geographical stability and to discourage any unwanted visitors with bad intentions.

• Once an overall action plan has been developed for this safeguarding stage, a command structure is obviously required, with some form of steering committee taking overall responsibility.

• The erection of a well-rounded visitor centre and museum would allow the artefacts that were discovered in these parts, and which are currently kept in Tbilisi, to return as part of a collection to be exhibited in situ. It would also assist in the more efficient servicing of increasing flows of tourism.

Considering the fact that the Gareji Monasteries and Hermitages are among the most important religious sites of the Black Sea-Caspian Sea Basin, there is a lot of potential to develop the area into a viable destination for sustainable cultural tourism. An outline of a plan for the development of sustainable tourism is found in annex to the report.

“In parallel with the physical works to protect the sites, economic developments will need to be initiated to ensure the sites’ perpetuity. In terms of distance, the sites are close to Tbilisi, but in terms of accessibility, the sites are a long way away. Living monasteries and tourism is not always a comfortable relationship. […] However, by concentrating on the development of the whole valley system, rather than just one aspect of it, it should be possible to develop a business model which will provide the funding needed to stabilise and possibly develop the lavra sites – and those of the anchorites – and provide economic development for the wider resident population”, the report stated.

Download here (PDF, 48 MB) the complete technical and financial report for the rehabilitation of the David Gareji Monasteries and Hermitages, also available via:

Photos of the monuments in high-resolution

Background information

The 7 Most Endangered programme
The 7 Most Endangered programme identifies endangered monuments and sites in Europe and mobilizes public and private partners on a local, national and European level to find a viable future for those sites. The programme was launched in 2013 by Europa Nostra with the European Investment Bank Institute as founding partner and the Council of Europe Development Bank as associated partner. It was inspired by a successful similar project run by the US National Trust for Historic Preservation. The 7 Most Endangered is not a funding programme. It is a catalyst for action and promotes “the power of example”. The 7 Most Endangered is supported by the Creative Europe programme of the European Union, as part of Europa Nostra’s networking project ‘Sharing Heritage – Sharing Values’.
Since 2013, 29 threatened monuments and heritage sites from 19 countries across Europe have been selected for the 7 Most Endangered. The first list was published in 2013, the second list in 2014, the third list in 2016 and the fourth list in 2018, during the European Year of Cultural Heritage. In 2016, the Venice Lagoon in Italy was declared the most endangered heritage site in Europe.
An international advisory panel, comprising specialists in history, archaeology, architecture, conservation and finance, meet to discuss the applications submitted to the 7 Most Endangered programme and to shortlist the most threatened monuments and sites. The final list of 7 sites is selected by the Board of Europa Nostra.
Heritage and financial experts from Europa Nostra and the European Investment Bank Institute undertake missions to the 7 sites, together with the nominators. The multidisciplinary teams assess the sites and help formulate a feasible action plan for each of them, in close cooperation with national and local public and private stakeholders. The results and recommendations of these missions are summarised in technical and financial reports.The programme partners assist with the implementation of these reports.

Europa Nostra
Europa Nostra is the pan-European federation of heritage NGO’s which is also supported by a wide network of public bodies, private companies and individuals. Covering more than 40 countries in Europe, the organisation is the voice of civil society committed to safeguarding and promoting Europe’s cultural and natural heritage. Founded in 1963, it is today recognised as the most representative heritage network in Europe. Plácido Domingo, the world-renowned opera singer, is the President of the organisation. Europa Nostra campaigns to save Europe’s endangered monuments, sites and landscapes, in particular through the 7 Most Endangered programme. It celebrates excellence through the EU Prize for Cultural Heritage / Europa Nostra Awards. It also contributes to the formulation and implementation of European strategies and policies related to heritage, through a structured dialogue with European Institutions and the coordination of the European Heritage Alliance 3.3.

European Investment Bank Institute
The European Investment Bank Institute (EIBI) was set up within the EIB Group (European Investment Bank and European Investment Fund) to promote and support social, cultural, and academic initiatives with European stakeholders and the public at large. It is a key pillar of the EIB Group’s community and citizenship engagement. More information on

Creative Europe
Creative Europe is the EU programme that supports the cultural and creative sectors, enabling them to increase their contribution to jobs and growth. With a budget of €1.46 billion for 2014-2020, it supports organisations in the fields of heritage, performing arts, fine arts, interdisciplinary arts, publishing, film, TV, music, and video games as well as tens of thousands of artists, cultural and audiovisual professionals. The funding allows them to operate across Europe, to reach new audiences and to develop the skills required in the digital age.

Georgian Arts and Culture Center
The Georgian Arts and Culture Center is a non-profit, non-governmental, non-political organisation established in 1995 and re –registered in 2001. They aim to preserve and promote Georgian culture and cultural heritage. They achieve this through supporting the development of Georgian crafts and cultural industries; fostering the studies of Georgian culture and support the integration of Georgian scholars in international scholarly work; strengthening the economic viability and self-sustainability of cultural institutions, culture-based small and medium businesses, and individuals working in the field of arts and culture. They foster international relations and cultural exchange, educational activities in the field of culture and innovative approaches to exhibition activities. They contribute to the development of capacities in the cultural sector and increasing public awareness of Georgian cultural heritage. Since 2016, the Georgian Arts and Culture Center has been Europa Nostra’s country representation in Georgia.

Maka Dvalishvili
Europa Nostra Georgia / Georgian Arts and Culture Centre Director
T: (+995 32) 293 13 35, 293 56 85

Elena Bianchi
Europa Nostra Programmes Coordinator
+31 (0)70 302 40 58

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