An ancient historical site that was besieged by Pompey the Great in 65 BC, Gori is better known in modern times as the birthplace of Josef Stalin. It is located 55 mi/85 km west of Tbilisi.

The town is dominated by the Goris-Tsikhe Fortress (the present structure was rebuilt in medieval times) and by an enormous statue of Stalin in the town square. Climb the hill to the fortress for a good view of the surrounding river valleys. Afterward, be sure to visit Stalin's house, where the dictator was born, and the Stalin Museum behind the house—highlights include his death mask and handwoven carpets with kitschy portraits of the general.

Just southeast of Gori is the abandoned town of Uplis-Tsikhe, carved into the solid stone of a mountainside. Tour the Hall of Queen Tamara and the Three-Naved Cave Basilica.

Another cave complex, located 70 mi/115 km south of Gori (and well worth the drive), is Vardzia, a monastery that originally was made up of more than 3,000 chambers. Nearly 550 have survived wars and earthquakes and can be visited today. Nearby is the convent of Vanis Kvabebi, also housed in caves.

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