Painted Monasteries


The Rusenski Lom Nature Reserve is a protected area known for its scenic and quiet countryside with distinctive limestone cliffs and riverside walks.  Here there are three very fine medieval rock monasteries where churches, monk cells and chapels were cut into the living rock.  At the World Heritage Site of Ivanovo, the wall paintings are exceptionally well preserved.

Only an hour’s drive from Wild Thyme is the rock monastery at Ivanov.  It is a complex of caves and rock cut churches set in the beautiful limestone gorge of the river Lom. Today it is part of the Rusenski Lom Natioanl Park but there is much more to the site than just scenery.

Several of the churches are decorated with the most fantastic religious paintings. They date from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, just before the Ottoman conquest of Bulgaria, when the Bulgarian church was linked closely to the Greek speaking world and the city of Byzantium. One of the scenes shows Jesus and the disciples at the Last Supper but was painted at least a century before Leonardo da Vinci’s famous painting of the same scene.

The whole valley is littered with caves where monks practised a strange form of meditation where they sat alone inside the cave and repeated a short prayer over and over again. They chose this place because it was peaceful and the rock formations so spectacular but also because it was relatively close to Veliko Tarnovo where the Bulgarian Tsars were based. Two of these rulers are pictured in colour on the cave walls as they provided the funds for most of the paintings.

The little known rock monastery at Krepcha has interesting wall etchings.  These include probably the earliest surviving Cyrillic insciption as well as runic and Hebrew characters.