Fast Facts

  • Location: About 120 km south of Sofia in west Bulgaria
  • Attraction Type: Monastery
  • Significance: A UNESCO World Heritage site and largest Eastern Orthodox
  • Best Time to Visit: May to October
  • Visiting Hours: Daytime
  • How to Reach: By road from Sofia
  • Nearest International Airport: Sofia International Airport

Rila Monastery in Bulgaria is the largest representation of Eastern Orthodox monastery in this Balkan country. Bulgaria Rila Monastery the most illustrious of all monasteries in this country has been a major tourist attraction for its architecture, size, paintings, and natural surroundings. Standing at a height of nearly 1140 meters it offers a panoramic view of Drushlyavitsa and Rilska rivers, and Mousala, the highest Rila Mountain peak.

According to history, Ivan the hermit, also referred as St. John of Rila retired to Rila Mountains in disgust of the decline of morality in Bulgaria during the rule of Tsar Peter. In these somewhat inaccessible mountains Ivan worked among the deprived and aimed towards achieving equality among the masses through his tasks. Ivan’s cave during his lifetime grew into a place of reverence and after his death grew into a monastery. It is commonly believed that St. John set up his monastery sometime during the reign of Tsar Peter from 927 — 968 AD.

After Ivan’s death his relics were taken all over the Balkan states by contemporary rulers, but were eventually brought back to the monastery in the 15th century. Thereafter extensive renovations in 18th and 19th centuries lent an impressive complex consisting of 4 chapels, a 4 floor residential portion containing cells for 300 monks, an abbot’s room, a library, a kitchen and donors’ guestrooms.

Visiting Rila Monastery
The monastery of Rila is in the shape of a large irregular quadrangle with a stone tower in the courtyard. This stone tower is supposedly the oldest structure within the monastery complex and was later accompanied by a smaller church. The belfry that you would notice in the old tower was constructed in the middle of the 19th century. During the same time ‘the Nativity of the Virgin’, the main church of the monastery was built by Pavel Ivanovich. This church with 5 domes, two chapels and three altar niches is also renowned for its fascinating wall paintings including many by Zahari Zograf.

The Raphael’s Cross is another outstanding creation you would discover in the museum of Rila Monastery. Made from one wooden piece, it was carved with small knives and fine chisels with the aid of magnifying glass over a period of twelve years. It is popularly believed that the monk who designed Raphael’s Cross turned blind. Miniature carvings of nearly 650 figures and over one hundred religious scenes would intrigue you. Huge cooking vessels in the kitchen would also surprise you.

Accommodation and Food at Rila Monastery
If willing, you could put up in the guest rooms of Rila Monastery. Or else, you might stay in Rila Lakes Chalet, Vada Chalet, Samokov Hotel, or Rilska Ezera Chalet. While visiting Rila Monastery, you could fill yourself at the monastery’s dining hall which offers recipes made from fresh fish caught from Rilska River.

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