Hermit monks started to settle in the region in the 13th century, digging cells, churches and chapels into the rocks, striving to be closer to God. The caves around were inhabited by monks from the 13th century to the 17th century. The rock churches are believed to have been about 40, while the cells of monks – about 300. Unfortunately, most of these do not longer exist.
In five of the rock churches of Ivanovo Monastery mural paintings dating from the 13th and 14th century have been preserved. This fact makes the complex a site with cultural and historic value. The murals are exquisite in color and composition and present the specific features of Bulgarian medieval painting. They are an example of the revived attention towards antiquity and its culture, which in the 14th century can be noticed in Christian Orthodox art.
Gospodev Dol (to be found in a place of the same name) church is the one with the richest wall paintings. On the walls of the monks’ cells passionate confessions can still be found. From one of them, a visitor can learn that Tsar Ivan Terter (1279-1292) spent the rest of his life and was buried in the monastery. Exceptionally interesting is another church, the so-called Buried-Under Church, located in the Letters place. The frescoes of this church deserve a great attention. One of the church donors was Tsar Ivan Assen ˛˛, who loved to visit the place. A portrait of the tsar, holding a model replica of the church, was found in the Buried-Under Church that is an evidence for church donating. There is also a third church, called by the locals “The Church”. It is believed to have been founded by Tsar Ivan Alexander (1331-1371). The church significance is connected with its valuable frescoes depicting scenes from the Bible in a locally-modified style of the Emperor Justinian’s Renaissance. Unfortunately, the monastery’s valuables still remain subject of repeated raids of treasure-hunters.
The monastery’s rock churches are included in the UNESCO World Heritage List and are one of the 9 such objects in Bulgaria.