Rila Monastery

  Rila     more than a year ago
A perfect day trip out of Sofia, combining spectacular scenery with history and culture. On the UNESCO World Heritage list, and tucked away in the Rila mountains at 1150 m above sea level, the Rila monastery was founded in the 10th century by the followers of the hermit monk St. John of Rila. The monastery became a powerful spiritual centre in the middle ages and kept alive the Bulgarian national spirit during the Ottoman rule.

From the outside, it maintains its fortress-like appearance but once through the main gate, the visitor finds himself in a spacious cobbled courtyard surrounded by enchating rows of balconies with a church in the centre. All of this is against the splendid natural backdrop of the Rila mountains.

Unlike most churches built under Ottoman rule, this one is outwardly ornate and the exterior arcades depict religious scenes in bright colours.

Visitors are free to wander around the monastery, which still functions as such to date. Other points of interest include Hrelyo's tower, next to the church, the only original building dating back to 1335, the monastery kitchen with its huge vaulted chimney and the museum, for which a fee is charged.

The most remarkable item in the museum is the double-sided cross, carved from a single piece of wood, depicting in miniature 104 religious scenes and 650 figures.

The area around the monastery is badly developed for the amount of visitors. Car parking and toilet facilities are extemely limited, there are a couple of tacky souvenir places, a few outdoor cafes and a hole in the wall selling doughnuts. Along the bank of the river Rila there are a couple of restaurants, though it may be wiser to have lunch in one of the smaller places on the road to the monastery.

Not far away, approximately 40 minutes walk, is the Church of the Assumption of Ivan Rilski, near the cave where he is said to have lived, though the signposting is not good.

To make the most of this historic site we recommend you make your first visit with a guide.


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Ellen Dlott

Rila Monastery is magnificent. No one within range should miss it. I've been there three times and plan to visit yet again during my upcoming holiday in Sofia. One need not be religious to appreciate this venerable monastery's touching beauty.
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