Tbilisi is impossible to imagine without its main attraction – Narikala Fortress. Name means ‘Little Fortress’ in Turkish. The fortress sits on a rocky outcrop in the Tabori Range, high over Old Tbilisi and the Mtkvari River. It is the most known and ancient monument of Tbilisi’s antiquity. The townspeople call it “the heart and soul of the city”. Tbilisi Botanical Garden lies behind the fortress, while the heart of the Old Town and the domed roofs of the Abanotubani sulfur baths roll out at the foot of the castle.
History of Narikala Fortress
The fortress was erected in 4th century AD, i.e. Later the fortress was extended and expanded several times. In the 7th – 8th centuries, Arabs did it. That’s why the citadel in its modern condition is a vivid example of an Arabian fortification. In the 11th – 12th centuries, it was the Mongols’ turn. The initial name of the fortress was Shuris-Tsihe (the Enviable Fortress). And from the time of the Mongolian invasion the fortress got the name Naryn Kala (from Turkic “Naryn” – “small” and “Kala” – “fortress”).
In 1827 the fortress was destroyed by an earthquake and since then the citadel has not been restored completely. Only Ad-hoc restorations were done to the lower part of the fortress. Some walls were partially rebuilt and a few parapets re-sculpted in the image of the old castle’s imprint.
The fortress territory contains a St. Nicolas church dating from the 12th century. The church was reconstructed in 1996 in the traditions of the fortress surrounding it. The internal part is decorated with frescoes showing scenes both from the Bible and the history of Georgia.
Infrastructure around the Fortress
Rike Park ropeway. This modern cablecar connects Narikala with a lower station in Rike Park, on the opposite side of the river. It runs from 10 am until 10 pm daily (until midnight on Saturdays). The fare is 2.5 GEL, and you can use your MetroMoney card or Transport Card (the same rechargeable cards you use on the bus and metro).
Souvenir counters. Located Near the Narikala ropeway, on a path to the monumental statue of Kartlis Deda (Mother of Georgia) Here you can buy some Georgian souvenirs, have a fresh juice, or some easy snacks.
Zipline at Tbilisi’s botanical garden. Strung from the hilltop Narikala Fortress overlooking the city, the line is suspended 30 meters above the park and runs 270 meters to its destination platform.
Parking place. There is a small parking place at the main entrance of the fortress. So, you can visit by car also. Note that the driveway to the fortress is very narrow and steep. The road is very congested during the day. In many cases, there is no parking space. If you still want to visit the castle by car, then I recommend you do it either in the morning or after 11 p.m.
How to get there
There are 3 different ways to get to Narikala fortress:
To make the most of the views, I suggest first using the cableway and then walking one way.
There are two routes up to the fortress: the first is via Orbiri Street from Abanotubani. It starts with a steep staircase that gives you a great vantage over the domed bathhouses and an up-close view of the Mosque minaret.
The second, even more, the picturesque route is via the Betlemi Street Stairs. Starting from Lado Asatiani Street, follow Betlemi Rise to the church, pausing on the terrace for a view.
The path continues through a patch of the forest to the foot of Mother of Georgia and the Kartlis Deda Viewpoint. The path branches out in several directions towards the top – they all end up in the same place.
From there, the entrance to Narikala is another 500 meters east via a paved pathway. To reach the main entrance, take the stairs down after the cable car station.
- Sensible shoes: Visiting Narikala involves lots of stairs and walking over a fair bit of uneven terrain. Wear your most comfortable shoes, especially if you plan to walk up or down the hill.
- Drinking water: There are spring water fountains inside the Botanical Garden.
- Hat & sunscreen: The entire hill is quite exposed so be sure to bring sun protection gear with you, especially in summer.
- Long pants & lightweight scarf: If you plan on going inside the church, wear something that covers your knees/shoulders and bring a scarf to cover your hair (women only). If you forget, there are shared scarves available at the door.
- Accessibility: Parts of Narikala Fortress are accessible, but overall the mix of rough terrain and stairs makes the area unsuitable for wheelchair users. If you’re unsteady on your feet, better to stick to the lower part of the fortress and utilize the cablecar to reach the top of the hill.
- Safety: There are lots of precarious drop-offs, high ledges, and steep stairs – and very few safety rails. Take extra care if you’re traveling with kids.