Uspensky Cave Monastery

Bakhchisaray Cave Monastery

Useful Information

Uspensky Cave Monastery. Public Domain.
Max Presnyakov, 1899, Uspensky Cave Monastery, Crimea. Public Domain.
Max Presnyakov, 1899, Uspensky Cave Monastery, Crimea. Public Domain.
Location: ул. Мариамполь, 1, Bakhchysarai.
Near Starosel'ye, Bakhchisarai.
Open: All year daily 6-18.
Fee: free, donations welcome.
Classification: SubterraneaCave Church Speleologyerosional cave
Light: LightIncandescent Electric Light System
Guided tours: self guided
Photography: not allowed inside
Accessibility: no
Address: Uspensky Cave Monastery, ул. Мариамполь, 1, Bakhchysarai.
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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8th century monastery founded.
9th century monastery first mentioned.
13th century monastery abandoned after the fall of Byzantium.
15th century current buildings erected.
1653 founded by a group of monks and a regiment of Cossacks as an outpost on the Belgorod Abatis Border.
1699 Tsar Peter the Great visited the monastery while in Voronezh overseeing the construction of his fleet.
1788 monasery dissolved by Catherine the Great’s policies of secularisation.
1828 monastery reopened by monks from another monastery.
1921/1923 monastery closed by the Soviet government.
1993 after the collapse of the Soviet Union the abandoned monastery was renovated and opened to the public.


Frédéric Dubois de Montpéreux (*1798–✝1850), 1835, Uspensky Cave Monastery, Crimea. Public Domain.
Karl von Kügelgen (*1772–✝1832), 1824, Uspensky Cave Monastery, Crimea. Public Domain.
Fridrikh Gross, 1856, Uspensky Cave Monastery, Crimea. Public Domain.
Ste-Anastasie Monastery of Katchi-Kalon in 1900, Uspensky Cave Monastery, Crimea. Public Domain.

The Uspensky Cave Monastery is located in a steep valley right south of the town Bakhchisaray on the Crimea peninsula. The buildings were erected along the steep limestone cliffs and partly in caves. The cliff face was used as back wall for several buildings, others were built completely inside a cave, some are just facades which close the cave portal. The monastery was originally founded in the 8th century, but there are no documents from this time as it was completely destroyed after the fall of Byzantium. The current monastery was erected on the same place during the 15th century. Because of its location near Bakhchisaray the monastery is also known as Бахчисарайский Успе́нский пещерный монасты́рь (Bakhchisaray Dormition Cave Monastery) or (Bakhchisaray Dormition Monastery), another name is Assumption Monastery of the Caves or simply Holy Assumption Monastery. It is also called Свято-Успенский монастырь (Holy Dormition Monastery)

According to legend the monastery is the result of a miracle. One day a shepherd found an icon of Mary the mother of Jesus illuminated by a candle on the cliffs. The local prince heard this and the icon was brought to his palace. But the next morning the icon had returned to its former place on the cliff. Again the icon was brought to the palace of the prince, but again it vanished miraculously to return to its old place. The people realized that they were meant to leave it where it appeared. They built a chapel at the place, located about 20 m up in the cliffs, and a flight of steps to reach it, and placed the icon in the chapel.

Another legend, which is much older, goes like this. Once a huge snake or dragon appeared in the valley, preying on both cattle and people. At this early times the area was inhabited by Greek and Genoese inhabitants, who were Christians. They prayed to Virgin Mary to free them from the dragon. One night they saw a candle burning high up on the cliff and went to look. They found steps hewn in the rock leading to the candle, which illuminated an image of Virgin Mary. Close to it was the dead body of the dragon. The people cut the corpse into pieces and burned it. But the place where the image of Virgin Mary appeared was transformed into a holy shrine.

The valley around Bakhchisaray has numerous steep limestone cliffs. The river cutting into the rocks created caves and overhangs in the cliff face. There are several monasteries using those caves, up the valley is the more famous monastery Chufut Kale. The monastery here is less fortified but also much easier to reach and thus more popular. The monastery is easy to find, as huge portions of the cliff face were evened and then painted with Christian idols during the 19th century.

The current monastery is a result of the Turkish invasion in 1475. It was for some reason not destroyed, and became the residence of the Metropolitans of Gotha. Nevertheless, the monastery was poor, and was forced to ask the Moscow grand dukes and tsars for help. There are some differences among scholars how and when it was actually built, which is mainly a result of the fact that most documents were destroyed by numerous wars. Alexandre Berthier-Delagard had a version of the foundation of the Dormition Monastery dating back to the 15th century. He referenced some documents which are unfortunately also lost.

But the fact that the Dormition Monastery was the main stronghold of religious life of the Orthodox population of Crimea from the XV to XVIII century, is undisputed. In 1771, the Orthodox population was fleeing from Muslim persecution in Greece. Many orthodox Christs came to this monastery, but it was located at the southern border of Russia, and there was always the danger of fights. They founded a town named Mariampol between the monastery and Bakhchisarai. Metropolitan Ignatius (Gazadini) of Gotha, an archpastor from Greece, wrote letters to Empress Catherine II and gave bribes to local lords. Finally, they were allowed to settle in an unpopulated area. More than thirty thousand Christians left the peninsula to the north with the shrine, the Bakhchisarai Icon of the Mother of God, in June 1778. They founded two dozen villages along the northern shore of the Sea of Azov, and founded the city Маріуполь (Mariupol). After this exodus, the monastery was abandoned. Only the church with one priest remained.

The monastery was abandoned during the Soviet era, as the new ideology did not allow any religion. There are different years given, we read 1921 and 1923, there seems to be some confusion when the monastery was actually closed. But as soon as the Soviet Union collapsed in the early 1990s, the monks returned and started to restore the monastery. The buildings were re-erected and the icons on the cliff face were repainted. It's possible to visit the cave monastery again. However, only one cave with a small chapel is open. It is an Eastern Orthodox monastery, so visitors must dress modest, shirts without sleeves and shorts are not allowed, women must cover their hair.