Through my eyes

living my life without regrets

Monday, December 28, 2015

Ivanovo, BG - Иваново -

Ivanovo, BG   

The Rock Church of Ivanovo
Not far from Ruse is the very small town of Ivanovo, a UNESCO site of Rock Churches. Never heard of a rock church? Well, I wanted to see what this was all about and since it is a UNESCO site, they are usually pretty good. We were not disappointed. 

 We took our time leaving the Hotel near the Border north of Ruse and idled our way to Ivanovo (Иваново). Please read the Cyrillic part! Иваново is not that easy to read, is it? But you can see that the letter “И” sound like an ‘I’, right?  And “ново” sounds like ‘novo’, so if I kept on writing those letters down and made my own alphabet at least I got a sense of sounds. Every time a name started with ‘И’ I now knew it was the letter I. Yes, I could also read the man’s name Ivan (Иван). Well you get the idea, it still is a struggle to read Cyrillic, only constant practice and doing it daily will improve my reading. It is also a mental challenge and I look at it as ‘fun’ while being in Bulgaria. Sure I get stuck and call myself names when I don’t remember some sounds, but then, that is what learning is all about.

There are 2 rock church sites near Иваново, and I saw a small sign on the main road, at the end of town, that told us go this way; when we rode into the street it turned, after a mile or two, into a mud road with lots of big puddles. Thinking about riding through mud and muck and potholes filled with (how deep?) water made me cringe! Carol and I looked at each other and turned around, asking and answering for ourselves “is it worth riding through this bad road and maybe getting stuck or in an accident just to see another church?”  So we rode back to the main road towards our booked hotel and then saw the ‘other’ sign for a rock church. Sure, we will try seeing ‘that’ church instead, and off we went. 

The ride was nice; the road was in fairly good shape but where was this church? We first stopped in a large parking lot near a building from which a walk way started to meander through meadows towards a cliff in the distance. Was that it? I am looking for a sign to ‘read’, and ‘reading’ a sign, it became clear this is the wrong walk. It’s just a nature walk. So I let Carol stay where we were and rode along a road that was not in such great shape along a small river and after a mile or two came to a dead end. Yes, there is a booth for tickets and yes, this is it. So, back I went to pick up Carol and now we are officially on the right road, going to the official Rock Church site mentioned on the UNESCO list. I know this all sounds a bit convoluted, but when you cannot read the writing and you want to make sure you are on the right road, finding things in remote areas is a bit difficult.

A Nice Hike Up to the Church 
Up and Up, One Step At a Time 
We parked the bikes and they looked a bit lonely in the parking lot, there were not a lot of people around. After we paid the admission fee we were off to climb 140 stone stairs, chiseled out of an almost sheer cliff to get to the church, 38 meters (120 feet) above us.
Entrance to the Church, 120 Feet Above the Forest Floor 
The Altar Is Now Used to Sell Stuff 
Old Frescoes, In Their Original State 
While it is obvious the origin of this church was a natural cave, it had been enhanced by monks, even decorated with frescoes. The frescoes we saw were the originals stemming from the 14th Century. The colors were still vivid despite being exposed to nature’s whim. There was no heat in this (cave) Rock Church and only a small ‘window’ to allow some light to come in. The floor had been chiseled out in one piece but now looks like ‘paved’ with some big boulders and an upright stone serving as an altar, another as a baptismal font.
A Monk's Living Cave 

Looking out from the entrance, I could see a large, forested valley totally ringed by steep cliffs. We were told that in the Middle Ages around 100 monks lived in this lonely valley and devoted their life to prayer and religious life. These monks only talked when they prayed. Each day they would walk from their small living-quarter caves along the valley to this church and pray or celebrate a mass. I cannot fathom this kind of existence, this kind of strong belief in the hereafter, in a God.
He Gave Us the Fresco Tour 

A guide gave us a rehearsed explanation in English of the nuances of each of the frescoes, but I blanked out on that. I am not an art major; I thrive on the big picture, not on the minute details. Still, it was what we paid for with the admission ticket and this guy took his job very seriously.
The Valley View From the Church Entrance 
The Whole of the Valley; It Might Have Looked Like This 700 Years Ago 
Here we are, 40 meters up, hanging on the side of a cliff somewhere in Bulgaria and time seems to have stopped. There is nothing around but nature, nothing but definite signs of a religious cult of Christianity at a time when the Ottomans ruled this area. What were those people made of then? They bucked the trend for years to stay true to their belief in the face of imminent danger and persecution. The hardship, just finding food, finding warmth in the winter must have driven them mad. This area is rugged. Bulgaria is a very, very rugged country in some sections and this is one of those valleys where it might seem wonderful in the summer months, but I am sure it is cracking cold in the winter. Those monks lived in caves. They ate what? There were no fields to harvest from, there was just what Mother Nature offered, wild animals, nuts and greens found in the woods. And to have built this church in (on) the rocks is amazing.

Original 'Monk' Path 
When we left the church we had the choice of descending the way we had come or climbing some more and then walking the ‘old’ paths some of the monks took. We opted to go a bit higher and then find our way back from the top of the cliff. The views we had were amazingly beautiful, we had a true bird’s eye view all around us. No houses were visible; it must have looked like this when the monks lived here.

The path back was not cultivated; it was a rough path and was, more or less, as it was nearly 700 years ago. It took an around-about route but we did get back to our bikes. Both bikes still stood lonely in the parking lot and nobody took stuff off them, a fear you always have in the back of your mind when you park in a ‘lonely’ spot some place.

Our Hotel For the Night 
Bikes Were Stored Near the House, You Can Almost See Them!
It was time to find our hotel for the night and we did OK. The food was really, really good. It was all home-made by the owner’s wife. To store our bikes safely for the night, we parked them in the hotel owner’s back yard, a few houses along the same street as our Hotel. Iron gates were opened for us, blankets were used to cover our bikes and we were even driven back to the Hotel in their personal car. What a nice way to be treated by Bulgarians. The room was OK, nothing special but they did all they could to make us feel comfortable. Even if the room was not ‘world’ class, the food, the disposition of the proprietors and the people in the town definitely made up for it. Sure there were many dilapidated houses, signs of former communist neglect and some disorganization but never did I feel threatened.
Иваново was a good stop. I recommend it as an experience.

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