Founded in the first half of the thirteenth century, the rock chapels near the village of Ivanovo constitute a remarkable Eastern Orthodox Hesychastic monastic complex. This sect of Eastern Orthodoxy, dedicated to religious seclusion, developed a complex that includes churches, chapels, and monastic cells all set into the caves of cliffs cut by the river Roussenski Lom. Inside many of the caves can be found frescoes; those in the Church of the Mother of God are the most valuable and best preserved in the complex. They are also the only frescoes that have been subject to full conservation and are accessible to the public. Despite continued conservation work at the site, many frescoes remain unconserved and are vulnerable to constant seismic activity, ground water penetration, condensation from high humidity, and air pollution.
1996 and 2000 World Monuments Watch
After Watch-listing in 1996, WMF received support from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation to address the most significant conservation needs at the site. In 2001, WMF secured additional funds from the Headley Trust and the Robert W. Wilson Challenge to Conserve Our Heritage to research and create an inventory of the site, in concert with a conservation program to consolidate frescoes and improve water proofing measures in the caves around the region of the Church of the Mother of God. A plan for long-term conservation was also created in order to ensure future stabilization of the rock chapels and wall paintings.
The Ivanovo Rock Chapels are interesting for their engineering alone, but their wall paintings suggest the high level of craftsmanship that was required for their creation.The distinctive mastery of the composition, details, and colors prove that some of the best Bulgarian artists from that time worked there, possibly members of the famous Turnovo School. These frescos had influence on other schools of painting including the Paleologues Renaissance in Byzantium, which reached its peak in the fifteenth century. The frescos have survived because of their extremely isolated location and the natural protection provided by the steep cliff face.