Rock-hewn churches of Ivanovo

The Rock-Hewn Churches of Ivanovo (Ivanovski skalni tsarkvi) are not individual temples; together, they used to form the rock-hewn monastery of St. Archangel Michael. Among them, the Church of the Holy Virgin (Sveta Bogoroditsa) is best preserved and easiest to access. Its rich murals are rare example of the Bulgarian culture from the period of 13-15 century. They illustrate scenes from the life of Jesus Christ, saints’ portraits and almost all major church holidays. During the Second Bulgarian Kingdom the monastery was a centre of Christian spirituality and literacy, as well as a cloister for pilgrims, monks, grammarians and icon-painters. It’s one of Bulgaria’s seven sites included in UNESCO’s world heritage list. The monastery encompasses six relatively individual groups of rock-hewn spaces. Visitors can enjoy the best view to the whole place from the panoramic rock near the parking site. You can reach it if you take the path that starts to the left of the Church of the Holy Virgin or if you head northeast along the way that starts from the parking site. After 50m, to the right, you’ll see the stairs which you can use to get on the viewing area. Each of the monastery’s rock-hewn complexes has a different architecture. The places follow the natural look of the limestone caves which is why each of them looks differently. The places served religious, housing or farming purposes. The temple spaces are the biggest and their walls were additionally made even. The housing cells are unworked caves – only their entrances can be closed. In some of them there are carved beds and benches as well as graffiti engraved in the walls, marking the names of the monks who lived there. Such are the cells next to the “Buried” Church (Zatrupanata tsarkva), whose walls are evened out and which were probably inhabited by the monastery leaders. The spaces which were once situated at the foot of the rocks perhaps served farming or household purposes.Most of the complexes are multi-storied. The separate groups of spaces were connected by way of paths on the rock terraces, wooden stairs or platforms. Today one can only see the seats for their supporting structures. Note: Tourist infrastructure is provided only up to the Church of the Holy Virgin. The rest of the rock-hewn churches of the monastery are not made ready to accept visitors.

The Rock-Hewn Churches of Ivanovo are located in the valley of the Rusenski Lom River, about 24km south of Ruse, in the outskirts of the village of Ivanovo. The road leading to the most famous church of St. Mother of God starts at the northern end of the village just before the last houses. At the fork you’ll see an indicating sign saying Rusenski Lom Nature Park (Priroden park ‘Rusenski Lom’). At the foot of the rocks, where the church is carved in, there’s a small parking site.