In the period of early Christianity along the Suha Reka in Dobrudzha surfaced a colony of rock monasteries.
It is located near the ancient fortress near the villages Golesh (Silistra Municipality), Balik and Onogour (Tervel Municipality), on the border between the municipalities of Dobrich and Tervel. The colony was spread about 40 km along Suha Reka, as its southernmost point is the village of Hitovo (Dobrichka Municipality), and the northernmost point – Golesh (Kaynardja Municipality). The center of the monastic life was the big rock monastery, known as Giaour evleri, not far from the village of Kragulevo (Dobrichka Municipality) and the group of rock monasteries at the foot of the fortress in Balik. South and north of it are its subsidiary sketes, cells and churches.
It is believed that here we encounter some of the earliest rock monasteries not only in Bulgaria and the Balkans, but also in Europe. They are believed to have been established in the 5th – 6th c. and declined around the beginning of the 11th century. The latter assumption is supported by some drawings and signs (especially the sign IYI in the rock monastery near Hitovo). The theory is confirmed by fragments of Proto-Bulgarian vessels from the end of 9th c. to the early 11th c. discovered during excavations in the rock complex Giaour evleri.
The rock monastery Hazar evleri includes a church, a mortuary chapel and a dormitory. The church has a large nave with a regular apse on the east wall and a large narthex. There is a water-well that reaches the river. South of the church is the monastery dormitory. On the walls there are several niches, and in the north end there is a toilet in the rocks. North of the church is the funeral chapel. On the eastern wall an altar niche is shaped and several burial chambers are dug into the floor. In the same direction, a small hallway and a path carved into the rock leads the visitor to several cells.
Rock Monastery “Giaour evleri” is considered by some researchers to be the largest early Byzantine imperial monastery of 5th – 6th c. in Bulgaria. It spreads on three levels and has a church, a chapel, abbot premises and a big dormitory. The central church catholicon was meticulously carved with a square-shaped nave. On the eastern wall stands a tripartite altar. Through a corridor you reach the big common rock room, where a water-well was dug. The church has a square-shaped narthex, and next to it there is a chapel with a rectangular apse. North of the chapel are the dining room and the abbot premises. The monastery was used again in the 10th c., as evidenced by pottery and inscriptions found at the foot of the height.
To the north of the monastery there are two secluded hermitage cells and the church-tomb “Sandaklara Maara” (the locals call it also “Sandak Cave”) used for burying the deceased monks.
The “Tarapanata” rock monastery (the locals called it “Monetarnicata”) is located on the right bank of Suha Reka, about 300 meters west of the “Sandaklara Maara”. On two floors are situated four quarters. Downstairs there is a cell and a chapel with a niche in the eastern wall. On the north wall a burial chamber is carved. The upper floor has the same arrangement. On the eastern wall there is an arched altar niche, while in the northern wall a bench and a burial chamber are carved. From the chapel on a narrow path you can reach a triangular cell. This monastery, like “Giaour evleri“, was also used in the 10th century. This is evidenced by several Cyrillic inscriptions and crosses with branched ends.
Where: All rock monasteries can be reached on foot from the village of Kragulevo (the route includes a 2 to 4 hour long passage, depending on the number of visited sites, the willingness and the ability of tourists). Those who do not know the area and have no experience in orientation, should hire a local guide. They can inquire about such a possibility in advance by calling 0882/020 927. Tourists are advised to have equipment and clothing similar to those for hiking.
When: The route to visit the Suha Reka rock monasteries takes at least 1 day. Suitable months for a visit: April, May and June. During the other months the access to the site might be restricted.