Lavra, the original monastery here, was founded by Davit Gareja, one of the 13 ascetic Syrian fathers who returned from the Middle East to spread Christianity in Georgia in the 6th century. The complex grew until monasteries were spread over a wide area. Manuscripts were translated and copied, and a celebrated school of fresco painting flourished here. The monasteries were destroyed by the Mongols in 1265, revived in the 14th century by Giorgi V the Brilliant, sacked by Timur, and then destroyed on Easter night 1615 when Shah Abbas’ soldiers killed 6000 monks and trashed many of the artistic treasures. The monasteries never regained their former importance, though they remained active until the end of the 19th century. During the Soviet era, the military used the area for exercises and vandalised many of the structures. Despite the site's vital importance in Georgian ecclesiastical history, no concerted effort has ever been made to restore or protect these important monuments.