Splendors of Georgia & Armenia

May 15-30, 2015

Led by Dr. Tasha Vorderstrasse, Research Associate
Download the brochure here


The south Caucasus is a complex region filled with many languages, peoples, and cultures. It is a place where many cultures and religions have come into contact over the centuries. Join the Oriental Institute for a tour of the countries of Georgia and Armenia, through tall mountains and medieval churches, ancient ruins and tower houses. These are lands of contrast and this tour will examine the entire history of these countries, allowing you to fully experience them.


Friday, Saturday, May 15 & 16: Travel
Depart United States to Tbilisi, Georgia  

Sunday, May 17: Tbilisi
We start touring late this morning at the Metechi Church, which occupies one of the most important historical sites in the city. We will then visit the Synagogue and the 6th-century Anchiskhati Basilica. We stroll through the maze of twisting streets lined with colorfully painted wooden houses and elaborately carved balconies and visit the Herekle Bath, the oldest remaining of the 68 sulfur baths that once occupied this area. B/L/D

Monday, May 18: Tbilisi
Touring today takes us to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Mtskheta, an important religious and trading center and capital of the eastern Georgian kingdom of Iberia from the 3rd century BC through the 5th century AD. En route we stop at the Armazis-Khevi acropolis (also known as the Bagineti archaeological site), the center of power until Georgia converted to Christianity, replacing pagan temples with churches, the most important of which is the Cathedral of Sveti-tskhoveli. We will also visit Jvari Monastery, one of Georgia’s earliest churches. B/L

Tuesday, May 19: Tbilisi
After walking up to Narikala Fortress, we continue to the Simon Janashia Museum of Georgia, where the country’s major archaeological finds are displayed, including a fabulous treasury of gold from ancient Akhalgori and Trialeti, and jewelry from the Iberian rulers of the first century CE. Lastly, we will visit the icon collection in the Shalva Amiranashvili Museum of Fine Arts.  Dinner this evening will be accompanied by a performance of Georgian music. B/L/D

Wednesday, May 20: Akhaltsikhe
We depart for Bakuriani stopping to visit the Stalin Museum in Gori. We then continue Uplis-tsikhe, an unusual medieval cave town that developed over hundreds of years beginning in the first millennium BC. At its height it was an important trade center, occupying 22 acres. The invasions of Tamerlane and the Mongols in the 13th century marked the beginning of its decline. After lunch, a wonderful and scenic drive via the Borjomi Gorge into the village of Akhaltsikhe (6,000 feet), where we will spend two nights at the Lomsia or Gino Rabath Hotel.  B/L/D

Thursday, May 21: Akhaltsikhe
Our destination today is Vardzia. At 10,200 feet above sea level, 3,000 caves were carved out of the soft tuff and occupied during the reign of King Giorgi III (1156-84) as a stronghold against the Turks. They later became a monastic settlement. We will visit a portion of the remaining 550 structures, in some of which frescoes have survived. B/L/D

Friday, May 22: Kutaisi
Touring today begins at the 14th-century frescoes by Damiane in the charming little church of Ubisi. We then visit Vani, a major city between 700 and 100 BC. We have seen the gold and silver from this rich site in the museum in Tbilisi. The remainder of the artifacts found at Vani are displayed in the site museum. Still visible on the site are the remains of the city gate, defense walls, and temples. The day ends in Kutaisi at our comfortable but simple accommodations. B/L/D

Saturday, May 23: Tbilisi
We begin our day with a visit to the Gelati Monastery complex, visiting the Cathedral, Church of St. Nicholas, Bell Tower, Chapel, and the Academy, which was built in 1104. We then return to Tiblisi. The remainder of the day will be at leisure.  This evening we will meet for our special Georgian dinner. B/D

Sunday, May 24: Yerevan
We will transfer to the border, where our Armenian guide awaits. After completing the formalities, we will begin our touring at two of the finest representatives of Armenian architecture, Haghpat and Sanahin Monasteries, both dating from the 10th-13th centuries. Our touring in Armenia will be in the environs of Yerevan, allowing us to use the renovated Marriott Hotel in Yerevan as our base for all but one night of our stay. B/L/D

Monday, May 25: Yerevan
Touring begins with Garni, a Roman temple built on a site that has been inhabited since Neolithic times. Evidence of previous cultures surrounds the temple. We then continue to the 13th-century Geghard, with interesting small rock-cut chapels and hermitage. After lunch, our touring will continue at the remains of the 7th-century Cathedral of St. Gregory at Zvartnots. This evening our dinner will be accompanied by a performance of traditional music and dance. B/L/D

Tuesday, May 26: Yerevan
Today we complete our touring with visits to two famous sites, Urartian Erebuni and Karmir Blur (Red Hill), where excavations have uncovered an Urartian settlement. Lastly, we will visit the wonderful History Museum.  In the late afternoon we will visit a carpet shop to learn about the Amenian carpets – thought to be the oldest known carpets. B/L

Wednesday, May 27: Sisian
We drive south to Khor-Virap Monastery on the site of Artashat and explore the ancient city before continuing through a beautiful canyon to Noravank Monastery. Our next site is called Zorats Stones (Carahunge), which hardly describes the incredible landscape of tumuli and seemingly endless lines of standing stone circles. That evening we will lodge at the Basen Hotel. B/L/D

Thursday, May 28: Yerevan
We will return to Yerevan driving stopping in Yeghegis to see the 800 year old Jewish cemetery. Also visit the town and the unusual Surp Zorats with its outdoor altar. This evening we will exchange toasts at our farewell dinner. B/L/D   

Friday, May 29: Yerevan
Today’s touring begins at the world-famous collection of illuminated Armenian manuscripts at the Matenadaran and continues at Etchmiadzin, the seat of the Armenian patriarch and place of pilgrimage. After lunch we will visit the cyclopean fortress at Metzamor and its small but important museum. B/L

Saturday, May 30: Travel
Depart Yerevan, Armenia to United States 


$5,555 per person, double occupancy
$6,565 single arrangements
Not included in rate; Airfare, visa fees, excess baggage charges, beverages not specified, transfers for participants arriving or departing before or after the tour, items not on menus or of a personal nature.

Included Features


  • Tbilisi: Marriott Hotel
  • Akhaltaikhe: Lomsia or Gino Rabath Hotel
  • Kutaisi: TBD
  • Yerevan: Marriott Hotel
  • Sisian: Basen Hotel


  • Enjoy an extensive meal program, including 13 breakfasts, 12 lunches and 10 dinners.  Water is included with all meals.
  • Take advantages of leisure time to try the local cuisine
  • Sample authentic regional specialties during select meals at featured local restaurants
  • Gather for a Farewell Reception

Become a Member Subscribe to E-Newsletter Search Our Collections


For additional information about the tour, call the Oriental Institute on 773.834.9777 or email oi-membership@uchicago.edu. For questions about bookings, call Archaeological Tours at 866.740.5130 or email archtours@aol.com.


Tasha Vorderstrasse is a Research Associate at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. She received her PhD from the University of Chicago in 2004 and was a Research Fellow at the Netherlands Institute for the Near East in Leiden before returning to Chicago in 2011. Her work focuses on the material culture of the Near East, Caucasus, and Central Asia and the interactions between these regions and China. She is co-director of the Oriental Institute excavations in Amroyi, Armenia.