Monks practicing mystical tradition of prayer,14th century painters expressing genius art on the walls of the churches, kings and powerful people donating money for the creation of this spiritual complex… This description refers to one of the sites included in the UNESCO’s List of global cultural heritage – the Rock-Hewn Churches of Ivanovo in Bulgaria.


The Rock-Hewn Churches are situated in North Bulgaria in the village of Ivanovo. It is about 22 km or 30 minutes away from city of Ruse, near the Roussenski Lom River. There is a parking lot near the historical complex, so you can easily arrive by car.

Then, you have to go up several rock-built stairs to reach the complex. It will take you around 10-15 minutes to reach the only church that is open for visits.

rock-hewn churches of ivanovo


The complex is composed of churches, chapels and monk cells, cut into the rock during the 13-14 centuries. The complex was built during the Second Bulgarian State /1185-1396/ in the 12th Century.

Two Bulgarian kings – Ivan Assen II and Ivan Alexander are the donors of this spiritual complex.  You can see their portraits painted on the walls of the most preserved and famous church in the complex – “Saint Merry” church.

rock-hewn churches of ivanovo

This church is famous due to the well preserved paintings on the walls and the ceiling. The genius thought and artistic craft of the 14th century painters is the reason for world recognition of the complex and the inclusion in the UNESCO’s list.

The paintings represent famous scenes from the Bible. Specialists point them out as a great art achievement because they differ from the canons of Byzantine iconography from that time.

rock-hewn churches of ivanovo

As a person without an art history education I cannot say much about the style of these wall paintings, but one thing that is striking when you enter the St Merry church is the freedom and artistic sensitivity that can be felt in this place.

Another thing that makes this place so interesting is the fact that the spiritual complex was inhabited by monks who practiced hesychasm. This is a mystical tradition of prayer. Monks who practice it believe that they can see God and the divine by blocking the physical senses, which is accomplished by living away from the society and praying singleheartedly.

rock-hewn churches of ivanovo bulgaria unesco


You can visit the Rock-Hewn Churches of Ivanovo from the 1st of April until the end of November. The Open Hours are from 9:00 till 18:00, so if you are lucky enough you can enjoy the romantic sunset there.

From December until the end of March this sightseeing complex is closed and can be opened only by request. To enter one of the most famous monasteries – “Saint Merry” Church you don`t need a lot of money. The ticket is 4 Leva which is approximately 2 Euro for individual visit. If you are a group of minimum 5 people the ticket is 3.00 leva or 1,5 EUR per tourist.

rock-hewn churches of ivanovo bulgaria

If you want to hire a tour guide you need to pay the humble price of 4 Leva or 2 Euro for the pleasure to hear some inside information about the place. Of course, I would like to point out that the best thing you can do is read your homework before going to this magical place.

When leaving do not miss to buy a colorful handmade decoration for your home – painted gourds. You can choose from big gourds to fridge magnets in the form of small gourds outside the complex.


The Rock-Hewn Churches of Ivanovo definitely impress so if you are in the region, pay a visit! When visiting the complex, you can also combine your trip with a visit to Besarbovski Monastery, Cherven Fortress and, of course, the city of Ruse – also known as the Little Vienna. 

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Written by

Travel blogger and tourism graduate from Bulgaria, working in the field of Digital Marketing and PR for travel brands.

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