What would churches carved into rock cliffs be like? We were driving slowly on a one lane asphalt path through short trees, between limestone cliffs covered with bushes. Rolling down the windows we listened to birds chirping and felt a light breeze.
(Click on any photo to view it larger.)
Reaching the end of the lane we paid our entrance fee to a man, who then climbed ahead of us up the steep path to open the only cave that is open for visitors.
Religious hermits carved rooms out of caves in the center of what is now a Bulgarian nature reserve. In the Middle Ages this wild, isolated, quiet environment helped bring the monks closer to God. The hermits began carving the churches, chapels and cells in the 12th century. Then under the rule of Tzar Ivan Asen the monk Gioacchino was chosen as Patriarch of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. Together, between 1218 to 1235, they built a monastery here, carved into the limestone cliffs above the Russenski Lom River in northern Bulgaria.
Beautiful medieval frescoes were added between 1331 and 1371 when the Tzar’s donations enabled the best artists from the Tarnovo School to be employed. UNESCO World Heritage states “the frescoes of the Ivanovo churches reveal an exceptional artistry and a remarkable artistic sensitivity for 14th century painting and Bulgarian medieval art; they are an important achievement in the Christian art of South-Eastern Europe.
There will be more pictures next week in part two.