Ivanovo Rock Churches: Medieval Bulgaria Unveiled
The village of Ivanovo is located about 22 km south-southwest of Ruse. This place, together with the nearby village of Cherven, has interesting stories to tell about Medieval Bulgaria.
The first boasts the ‘Ivanovo Rock Churches' - a network of about 20 small rock churches and chapels, as well as over 300 individual cells, while Cherven defended the whole region from the Cherven Medieval Fortress. Both are high in the steep cliffs that mark the sides of the twisting Rousenski Lom canyon. The churches can only be reached after a breathtaking (literally) climb up numerous flocks of stairs.
The Ivanovo Rock Churches were inhabited by monks, amongst them many grammarians and painters, who, in the 12-14th century, built the temples, and decorated the walls and ceilings with frescoes. The most important, about twenty, different scenes tell of Creation, Exodus, the birth of Jesus, the Rise of Lazarus, the Crucifixion as well as the portraits of the Bulgarian kings, Ivan Assen II (1218-1241) and Ivan Alexander (1331-1371) and other families of the nobility who donated to the rock monasteries.
The main church of the Virgin Mary complex has been dug into the rock at a height of 38 meters so be prepared for quite a climb. Don't miss the chance to walk upwards and on till you reach the endpoint of the small peninsula that juts out into the winding canyon on whose other side you can see dozens of bigger caves that offered accommodation to the hundreds of pilgrims, monks and students.
The Ivanovo Rock Churches are one of the nine Bulgarian monuments included in the UNESCO list of world culture and historical heritage. They are well worth a visit, if you pick a nice sunny, not too windy day. It is also worth bearing in mind that access is restricted by your ability to climb a steep but well maintained path.
Now the fun part, how to get there. Surprisingly, for once I am recommending a place that is both breathtaking for its natural beauty and is also quite well sign posted. Simply head north out of Veliko Tarnovo and towards Ruse. At an approximate distance of 22 km from Ruse, you will see a beautiful sign on the right hand side of the road. Make the turn and follow the road, but drive cautiously. The other markers are not quite as prominent as the first.
It takes about 30 minutes to get to the Ivanovo Rock Churches, where upon you can unpack the egg mayonnaise sandwiches and thermos. One extra small, but interesting point: when you arrive, you are presented with a car park and immediately before you a misleading No Entry sign. Ignore this and carry on the road to a second car park located right at the foot of the complex and you will save a 20 minute walk.
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