The Medieval Rila Cloister (Rilski Manastir)


Situated at the northwest side of Rila Mountains, Rila Monastery is one of the largest and most eminent monasteries in Bulgaria. It is named after the renowned saint of Bulgaria named Ivan of Rila. To the south of Sofia in the Valley of Rilska River and 1,147 above sea level the monastery is one of the UNESCO’s World Cultural Heritage site from the year 1983. It was founded in the 10th century and is known for architectural, historical and cultural monuments. It is one of the main attractions on the South Eastern Europe. This monastery was also printed on the back side of Bulgarian currency note which were issued in 1991. It was founded by St. John of Rila. He use to live in a cave which is near from the monastery and the complex was built by the students who use to get knowledge and education from him. It was the first Christian monastery which was built in Bulgaria in the 10th century. This monastery got a huge support and respect from the Bulgarian rulers. It is the cultural and spiritual centre for Bulgarians and they use to donate a lot after the second Bulgarian Empire until the invasion of Ottoman. It was founded during the rule of Tsar Peter I. From 12th to 14th century it was treated as National realization that reached the highest peak in Bulgaria.

In the 14th century the feudal lord named Hrelyu Dragovala reconstructed the Rila Monastery at the present place. There are many buildings around this monastery which are very old from this period they are the Tower of Hrelyu and a small church. The glorious gates and the bishop’s throne are also very ancient belong to that time. While during the middle of 15th century the monastery faced lots of raids and destructions after the arrival of Ottomans. With the help of donations from the Russian Orthodox Church the monastery was again rebuilt by the end of 15th century and the initiative was taken by three brothers from Kyustendil and they moved the monastery in the complex. The donations from the monastery Mount Athos were also very helpful in the reconstruction.

The monastery also faced fire in the year 1833 during the time of Bulgarian National Revival and it was treated as the structure of Bulgarian language and culture during the foreign rule. After the destructive fire in the year 1833 it was again rebuilt with the help of rich Bulgarians in the year 1834 to 1862. Whole Bulgaria helped in its reconstruction and architect Alexi Rilets gave it designs. While the construction of buildings started in 1816 with addition of Tower of Hrelyu and a school was opened in the monastery by Neofir Rilski in the year 1844. The complex of Rila monastery is one of the leading masterpieces of Bulgaria. It was stated as National Historical monument in the year 1976 by Bulgarian National Revival architecture. From the year 1991 it is the subsidiary of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church named Holy Synod.

Architecture, Residential part and the Monastery Museum

The main church is located in the center around the inner yard sculptured in the rectangular form and occupies an area of 8,800 meter square. The main church was erected in the middle on 19th century under the guidance of architect Pavel Ioanov from 1834 go 1837 and it has two side chapels, three altars and five domes. Gold plated iconostasis is one of the most precious items of this church, the wood carving made by four handicraftsmen and the making went for five years is one of famous carvings of this church. The church is known for many expensive icons from 14th century to 19th century. There were many masters who worked for the icons and architecture of this church. There are 300 chambers, four chapels; kitchen, library, donors’ room, and library are the parts of five storey residential building. The high walls of exterior of the complex with small windows give a glance of more a fortress than a monastery. The monastery museum is well known for the wooden cross made from the single piece of wood and is known as Rafail’s Cross. As it was made by Rafil with the use of small lenses and created 104 religious scenes with 650 miniature figures. It took 12 years to build and got completed in 1802 and the monk named Rafil lost his eye sight.

How to reach

Rila Monastery is 120 kilometers away from Sofia. There are many agencies which provide special tours for people from different countries. Sofia is the capital of Bulgaria which is connected with all the national and international air, road and rail routes. However if you want to reach Rila monastery then you can join the organized tours of travel agencies in Sofia. Rila Monastery is a one day return tour from Sofia. There are regular busses available to the village Rila. It takes 2 hours to reach there, you can also hire a taxi but it is not advised if you want to come back to Sofia in one day. There are many shuttle busses available from the Rila village to Monastery which takes 30 minutes. Another option available for you is to take bus or train from Blagoevgrad and from there you can take another bus for Rila village to monastery. The frequency of shutter bus is one per hour.

Where to stay

The Rila Monastery is one of the developed tourist center of Bulgaria it also offers accommodation with large number of restaurants and hotels. The price of stay starts from $15. Stay in monastery is a worth trying experience in the mountains near the Rilsks river with special breading pools. If you prefer to stay in Sofia there are many reasonable, cheap and budget hotels with requirements such as pools, business rooms, entertainment etc are available. There are many small private hotels which give a good and excellent service with home like comfort and traditional Bulgarian hospitality. You can exchange currency from the 24 hours banks depending on the rate of the day. Credit cards are also widely accepted around Sofia. Visas are easily available in all the countries from the Republic of Bulgaria.

This stunning monastery is one the most prominent monastery of Bulgaria a must watch monastery with the cultural heritage. It is best known for the residential building, museum and a remarkable view of Rila Mountain and river, the monastery is a worth visiting site of Bulgaria.

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