Rock-hewn Churches of Ivanovo


The Rock-hewn Churches of Ivanovo are a group of monolithic churches, chapels and monasteries hewn out of solid rock. The complex is noted for its beautiful and well-preserved medieval frescoes.

The caves in the region had been inhabited by monks from the 1320s to the 17th century, where they hewed cells, churches and chapels out of solid rock. At the peak of the monastery complex, the number of churches was about 40, while the other premises were around 300, most of which are not preserved today.

The monastery complex owes much of its fame to 13th- and 14th-century frescoes, preserved in 5 of the churches, which are thought of as wonderful examples of Bulgarian mediaeval art. The rock premises used by the monks include the St Archangel Michael Chapel ("The Buried Church"), the Baptistery, the Gospodev Dol Chapel, the St Theodore Church ("The Demolished Church") and the main Holy Mother of God Church, with the 14th-century murals in the latter one being arguably the most famous of all in Ivanovo and noted as some of the most representative examples of Palaeologan art. Many century-old inscriptions have also been preserved in the monastical premises, including the famous indented inscription of the monk Ivo Gramatik from 1308-1309.


Community Reviews

Mircea Ostoia - August 2013

In November 2012 I have visited the Rock Churches of Ivanovo and for me was a very nice day. A couple of friends and I traveled by car from Bucharest (Romania) to Ruse (Bulgaria) and then to the UNESCO site which is only 20 km away from Ruse. First you should know that you have to climb some stairs, some big stone stairs but do not worry it is not so hard. The churches were made in stone on the canyon created by the river Rusenski Lom. There are many cave that were inhabited by the monks, some said even 300, but only a few have the famous paintings. The frescoes dates from 13th and 14th centuries and now are preserved in only 5 UNESCO ones. The only one open to visit is St. Archangel Michael Chapel ("The Buried Church"). It is a small place and there is no guide or book or something but you have to pay an entrance fee… those should be the minor things just because the place is gorgeous and fragile. I didn’t like that they do not interdict the using of the flash of the cameras because you know that those painting are sensitive to light. You should go there even by bike :D

john booth - December 2012

The only rock-hewn church open to the public is the church of Archangel Michael. By visiting on a Sunday I found that there were a number of other visitors climbing the steep path up to the cave entrance, but only a few were admitted at a time.

The colours of the ancient frescoes on the walls and ceiling are still vivid.

I reached the site by train from Ruse to Ivanovo, from where it was a 5km walk down into the gorge of the Lom River to the site.


If you are doing a tour of Bulgaria and are in the Ruse area then the Rock Churches of Ivanovo are worth trying to fit in. Their cliffside location is quite impressive (see photo – the main caves are behind the glass window in centre) and the murals are interesting for their realism (no photo as Els only allows 1 photo per reviewer but the UNESCO site photo gives an impression of how they cover the walls and roof!) If you are visiting monasteries like Rila as well you may get a bit overwhelmed with murals unless you are an “expert” but these in some way act as a nice counterpoint to those in the full sized monastery!

We had a rentacar and it was an easy drive from Ruse. But be warned, they are not always open. The external view as per my photo is hardly worth a major journey by public transport (the caves are also a few kms walk up the gorge from the village). The day we were there luckily a coach party of Bulgarians had arrived and the couple who look after the churches were present. If you do arrive and the churches are closed the guardians lived in one of the houses across the stream (The River Rusenski Lom) from the cliff so you might persuade them to open

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Site Info

Full name: Rock-hewn Churches of Ivanovo

Site History


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  • Rock-hewn Churches of Ivanovo


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  • Bulgarian Empire Example of Bulgaria's fine arts in the 13th and 14th centuries, known as the painting of the Tarnovo Artistic School (Second Bulgarian Empire)


  • Built in the 13th century Convent was built between 1218 and 1235; between 1331 and 1371 it acquired the splendid frescoes

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