Ивановски скални църкви

Ivanovo Rock Churches - Ivanovo Rock-Hewn Churches

Useful Information

Location: 5 km outside Ivanovo, 25 km south of Ruse.
(43.69488783638056, 25.986962540692257)
Open: APR to NOV daily 9-18.
Fee: free.
Classification: SubterraneaCave Church
Light: n/a, you may bring torch
Guided tours: self guided
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Address: 7088 Ivanovo, Tel: +359-82-825-002.
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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122? monastery was established by the monk Yakim and his students who built the first rock church at that place.
1979 inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.


In an area with natural caves, monks hewed about 20 churches, chapels, and cells out of the limestone using the existing possibilities. The caves were inhabited from the 13th century (Gospodev Dol Chapel and Buried Under Church) until the 17th century. The monk Yakim and his students built the first rock church at that place in 122?. With this act they actually founded the monastery. The monks were grammarians and bookmen, which at that time also meant painters and artists. They used the walls to make mural paintings, which range among the most essential monuments of medieval painting in Eastern Europe. That is the reason, they were included into the UNESCO world heritage list.

The main church of the monastery is the Holy Virgin church. It shows a portrait of Tsar Ivan Alexander. He is holding a model replica of the church, which is typical for donor's portraits. In the so-called Demolished Church is a portrait of Tsar Ivan Alexander's first wife Teodora, who adopted the name Teofana when she became a nun. The church-donor's portrait in the Buried Under Church is probably Tsar Ivan Asen II. During the Second Bulgarian Kingdom, the monastery had developed strong relationships with the kings of Tarnovo. As a result, famous monastery-donors were the kings Ivan Assen II, Ivan Alexander and others. One of Bulgarian kings, George-Tervel (*1280-✝1292) decided to spend the end of his life in one of the monastery cells. After his death he was buried on the third floor of the so-called Baptism room.

The monastery was dedicated to St. Michael the Archangel. Its structure, despite the fact that it was hewn into the rock, differs very much from a typical monastery. Other monasteries have a single church and numerous residential building surrounding it. I rare cases there is a second smaller church. This monastery has a network of connected chambers with numerous small churches, chapels and monks cells. It seems the main service with all monks was not that important, at least it was difficult to handle.

During its heyday the monastery had about 40 churches and about 300 mobk cells, so it is a good guess that actually 300 monks lived here. And it was not the only monastery in the valley, there were several smaller monasteries in the valley of Roussenski Lom river. The area was a cultural center. Today only 20 churches and a much smaller number of cells still exist at Ivanovo. The other monasteries are closed to the public.

During the 14th century the Ivanovo Rock Monastery was a centre of Hesychasm. Under Ottoman Rule it fell into decline. It was revived In the 18th century. Today it is a museum and tourist site, there are no monks anymore.