Ivanovo Rock Monasteries

Some 23 km southwest of town of Ruse – Rousse, in the Ivanovo village in north-east Bulgaria, there is an unique cultural and archaeological reserve of the remarkable Medieval Basarabovo and Ivanovo rock-hewn monasteries, that number around 20 churches and some 300 monastic cells and provide monks to pray, and have opportunity to interact with God away from all worldly vanity. As if striving to be closer to God, hermit monks settled here during the 11th – 14th century, digging cells, churches and chapels into the rocks and painting them with frescoes. The large Hesychast monastic family spread all along the canyon of the Roussenski Lom River and its tributaries of the Beli and Cherni Lom rivers.

Some historical research has revealed that the patrons of the Basarabovo Monastery were the Holy Great Martyrs Theodore Tyron and Theodore Stratelates. The earliest historical records of the Basarab Monastery date back to the 15th century and are found in some Ottoman Empire tax register..A description of a land property in Ottoman Empire’s tax registers (so-called “timar”), owned by the Wallachian leader Ivanko Basarab – Basarab I the Great, father-in-law of Tsar Ivan Alexander, is found in one such register. This “timar” is the first written document that mentions the name of the village of Basarbovo as “the Basarab monastery”. The richness, the variety of the Ivanovo cells, chapels, churches, monastery complexes, the original architectural solutions – all set in a magnificent natural environment – confirm the value of this extraordinary historical grouping. The monastery dedicated to the Saint Archangel Michael belongs to a network of numerous small rock-hewn churches, cells and chapels, hewn 32 meters above the Rusenski Lom River. Located at a height of 6 to 8 meters from the ground, the Ivanovo ascetic cells have been founded during the Second Bulgarian Kingdom and inhabited by number of monks during the 13th century until the 17th century, who lived in seclusion their highly spiritual lives. After the fall of the Bulgarian state to Ottoman rule, the monastery declined and was abandoned. In the 18th century monastic life revived and the Ivanovo monasteries became again an important spiritual center of Bulgaria.

The Ivanovo rock premises used by the monks include the Holy Virgin Church, St Archangel Michael Chapel (“The Buried Church”), the Baptistery, the Gospodev Dol Chapel, the St Theodore Church (“The Demolished Church”) and the main Church of Saint Demetrius of Basarabovo, 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. Chronicles and the preserved church murals in Ivanovo village show that the community of hermits also created a blossoming literary centre during the 13th – 14th century. Its donors were representatives of the Royal court, including Tsar Ivan Asen II and Tsat Ivan Alexander, whose portraits have been preserved in the Monastery. One of Bulgarian kings, George-Tervel (1280-1292) has decided to spend the end of his life in one of the monastery’s cells where the death found him. His tomb is situated on the third floor of the so-called “the Baptism room”. Visitors of the Ivanovo rock-hewn monasteries and churches are overwhelmed both with the beautiful frescoes of the shrines, and the gorgeous natural settings and surroundings of the Rusenski Lom River canyon. There are variety of possibilities for visitors to combine exploration of cultural and natural heritage with number of outdoor activities and to learn the well preserved customs and meet friendly locals, while staying in the area of the Rusenski Lom Nature Park, rich in cozy facilities and family hotels and nicely appointed rustic accommodation. Visitors of the Ivanovo rock-hewn monasteries are strongly recommended to visit also the nearby mystical and impressive Cherven fortress, which were closely tied and connected in the Middle Ages. The Ivanovo rock monasteries have been evaluated as an important stage in the development of European culture and recorded on the UNESCO List of World Cultural Heritage. The Ivanovo rock churches contain some of the best frescoes of Bulgarian religious art and testify to the exceptional skill of the artists belonging to the Tarnovo School of painting, making important and frequented tourist attraction of Bulgaria.

Visitors of this beautiful area are recommended to take the bike route which begins from the centre of the village of Basarbovo and goes through the villages of Krasen, Shtraklevo, Nisovo, Kacelovo, Gorsko Ablanovo and Krepcha. The whole length is about 57 km and, while only 17 km of the road (Basarbovo – Krasen – Shtraklevo) is not asphalt – paved road. The bike route is horizontal, there is a small climb after Krasen and letting down and climb in Nisovo and Kacelovo. The lowest part is 50 meters (Basarbovo), and the highest – 280 meters (after Nisovo). The visitors can explore different historical, cultural and natural sights along this cycling route : The Rock Monastery of St. Dimitar Basarbovski – Saint Demetrius of Basarabovo, The Church In The Village Of Krasen, the Rock Churches of Ivanovo, Rock Monastery Complex “Gramovec”, The Century-old Elm near Nissovo village, The Big Monastery of Nissovo, the Medieval Town of Cherven, Orlova Chuka Cave, The Forest Park Near Gorsko Ablanovo Village, The Rock Monastery of Krepcha, The Monastery of St. Marina by The Village of Karan Varbocska, Rusenski Lom Nature Park. Most of the route goes through the Rusenski Lom Nature Park.