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Rock-hewn Churches of Ivanovo

Rock-hewn Churches of Ivanovo

7088 Иваново, България



The Ivanovo Rock Churches are a network of about 20 small rock chapels, convents and hermitages carved at different heights in the rocks of the picturesque canyon of the Roussenski Lom River. Once the rock churches were over 40, and the cells were about 300. They were inhabited by monks, many of whom were grammarians and scholars, and many Christians went there on pilgrimage. The murals of the Virgin Mary chapel are world-famous. They are among the most exquisite and well preserved examples of the paleolithic art in the Balkans. Their outstanding artistic qualities are the reason for their inclusion in the World Heritage List by UNESCO. The Rock-hewn Churches of Ivanovo are located 22 km to the south of Rousse, near the village of Ivanovo, within the boundaries of Rusenski Lom Nature Park. An asphalt road with signs leads near the complex, and at the foot of the rocks there is a parking lot for cars. A system of steps and ladders gives visitors access to the various chapels in the area. Some of the sites are hard to reach and may be beyond the reach of physically challenged individuals.The best period to visit is March – November. The temple complex was declared a National Archaeological Reserve in 1978. It was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1979.
Joakim I, the patriarch of Tarnovo commited himself to hermitage among these inaccessible rocks during the last years of his life. With a few disciples he established the first rock-hewn church in the beginning of the 13th century. According to the chronicles of that time, Tsar Ivan Asen II visited Joakim I and donated gold for the construction of one of the monastery churches. The followers of Joakim grew in numbers. Among them were about 80 monks-hesychsts, who kept a vow of silence, lived in the rocks and fed on roots, berries and grains. During the Second Bulgarian Kingdom (XII-XIV century) the monastery became a great spiritual and literary center. Inscriptions on cell walls document important historical events. Bulgarian kings and noblemen sent stonemasons to carve temples in the rocks, and artists to paint them with the holy images. The churches at the village of Ivanovo are part of the hundreds of Bulgarian medieval rock churches, monasteries and separate hermitage cells that in the X-XIV century turned the valley of Rousse Lom and its tributaries into a famous Orthodox and literary center. The main church of the temple complex "Virgin Mary" is cut at 38 meters a height. All inner walls are covered with frescoes depicting scenes from the Holy scripture. These include The Last Supper, Christ entering Jerusalem, John the Baptist with life scenes, Christ's Passions, images of the Apostles and other saints. The world-famous frescoes from the middle of the 14th century mark a peak in the development of Bulgarian medieval art. The benefactors of the royal cloister were the Bulgarian kings Ivan Assen II / 1218-1241 /, Ivan Alexander / 1331-1371 /, as well as other representatives of the rulers' families, whose portraits were placed among the saints. The Boji Dol Chapel is one with most preserved frescoes. The blessing of Jesus Christ is seen in the carved hole, and in the altar niche are depicted the Assumption, the Ascension of Christ and the Descendant of Christ in hell. An inscription on one of the walls reveals that this is the final resting place of Bulgarian King Georgi Terter (1279-1292).
Some of the walls of the hermitages preserve confessions and messages carved by the monks. Among them is the famous inscription of Ivo Gramatik from the end of the 13th century, which resembles the notes that scholars left in the margins of Old Bulgarian manuscripts. The Holy Cloister of Ivanovo Rock Churches existed in the early centuries of Ottoman domination but gradually declined as a spiritual center. In the 18th century, the royal monastery was restored as a place of Christian of worship. Today, despite the challenging terrain, this unique cultural heritage site is visited by thousands of tourists and pilgrims each year.
During their hey day, the Rock-hewn churches of Ivanovo were a major center of hesychasm. This mystical doctrine exalted the spiritual essence of man by solitude and self-absorption. It was officially accepted by the Eastern Orthodox church in the 14th century. The spiritual practices of the devotees include extreme asceticism, physical postures, breathing exercises and fasting. The goal was to enter a state of deep contemplation and perfect the art of uninterrupted prayer. The lasting influence of hesychasm can be traced to later brands of ascetic mysticism in Eastern Orthodox Christianity such as the Elders.
- Direct visit
- Virtual visit: Watch videos and see the photo galleries in the media resources section.
- Classroom activity: World Religions Through Art (

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This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This web site reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.