The monastery was constructed as protection from the Mongols. and consisted of over six thousand apartments in a thirteen story complex. The city included a church, a throne room, and a complex irrigation system watering terraced farmlands. The only access to the complex was through some well hidden tunnels near the Mtkvari river.
The church was reinforced and an externally visible bell tower added during the reign of Beka Jakheli in the thirteenth century.
In the modern days Vardzia is a major tourist attraction in the Samtskhe-Javakheti region of Georgia. The place is maintained by a small group of monks and can be visited for a small fee. Marshrutkas go to Vardzia daily from the city of Akhaltsikhe.
About three hundred apartments and halls remain visitable, and in some tunnels the old irrigation pipes still bring drinkable water.