Early Christian Rock Monastery – Balik, Bulgaria

The Early Christian rock monastery near the town of Balik, Krushari Municipality, Dobrich District in Northeast Bulgaria is the oldest of its kind in Europe, according to some historians and archaeologists. According to Bulgarian archaeologist Prof. Georgi Atanasov from the Silistra Regional Museum of History, the rock monastery near Balik is dated to the Late Antiquity and Early Byzantine period, namely the 5th-6th century AD, not so long after Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire in the 4th century AD. At that time, the territory of today’s Northeast Bulgaria was part of the Roman province Scythia Minor.

The rock monastery near the town of Balik is located along the canyon of the Suhata Reka (Dry River) in Northeast Bulgaria, in natural caves that were also enlarged by the Early Christian and medieval monks who inhabited them; it consists of a rock church, service rooms, and a total of 10 rock cells. The church and the monk cell caves are located on three levels. The rock church itself was enlarged by the monks by digging deeper into the rock. It has the shape of a square with sides 3.1 meters x 3.1 meters, and is 1.9 meters high. Several hundred meters to the north of the rock monastery there are two more hermits’ cells and a tomb church known to the locals with the Turkish name Sandiklari Maara, i.e. the Chest Cave, which was used as the burial place of the monks.

Bulgarian archaeologists have found at the Monastery intriguing artifacts such as ceramic vessels, and runic and Old Bulgarian (Cyrillic) inscriptions left by the monks indicating that the Early Christian rock monastery near Balik existed from the time of its founding in the Late Antiquity / Late Roman and Early Byzantine period until the demise of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD). The monks were either killed or abandoned the place during Bulgaria’s conquest by the Ottoman Turks who called it with the derogatory and offensive name “Gaiour (Gavur) Evleri” meaning “Homes of the Infidels”, which is how the place is still known today. In July 2015, at the initiative of the Dobrich Regional Museum of History, the Monastery saw its first religious service and consecration since the 14th century.

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Archaeology in Bulgaria. and Beyond