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Bulgarian Mountains > Rila > Rila Monastery

Rila Monastery

Among the bosoms of Rila at the altitude of 1147 m above sea level, on the right bank of the Rila River is situated the most outstanding monument of Bulgarian culture and architecture of the Revival period - the Rila Monastery, known also as the Holy Rila Retreat. For centuries on end it played an extraordinary part in Bulgarian history, in the struggle of our nation for spiritual and political freedom.

It was founded during the 10th century by Sveti Ivan Rilski (St. John of Rila) - patron of Bulgaria. The Monastery was built as it stands now by Bulgarian master builders in 1816-1847. Whilst on the outside it reminds one of a powerful Medieval fortress, inside, the beauty of the Bulgarian Revival Style emanates from the central Church Birth of the Holy Virgin and from the remaining monastery buildings, ornamented with colonnades, staircases and balconies.

The attention of the visitors is drawn to the first monastery kitchen (magernitsa) with its structure of octagons raising at the height of 22 metres crowned with a dome. In the middle of the monastery yard stands high the Hrelyo Tower - a powerful stone fortification, the sole preserved building of Medieval Times (1335). The Preobrazhenie (Transfiguration) Chapel housing mural paintings of the 14th century is on the top floor. The mural paintings in the remaining 3 chapels are remarkable, too, as well as the mural paintings on the arches of the yard facades, in the parlours, in the churches built in the areas surrounding the Monastery - all of them work of master builders from Samokov and Bansko Art School of the 19th century. Scenes from the Bible along with pieces of art of secular nature - the portraits of the founders of the Monastery are painted on the Cathedral. The enormous iconostasis in the Monastery Church Holy Virgin ornamented with open-worked wood-carving on walnut-tree wood, gilded later on, is a masterpiece of the art of wood-carving. The ceilings of the restored and furnished parlours, the interior of a monks cell of the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century, the permanent ethnographic museum collection, the monastery library housing 16 000 volumes of valuable and unique books are of interest, too.

A museum has been arranged in the newly built eastern wing of the monastery building which houses the gate of the Hrelyo Church, ancient weapons of the monastery guards and certificates of merit of Bulgarian tsars. Ornaments, ancient coins and church plate are exhibited here. There is an entire hall dedicated to a collection of icons, brought as presents from all over the country. The wooden cross on which monk Rafail worked for 12 years (from 1790 to 1802), finally growing blind from this amazing work leaving for us behind a unique work of art, is exceptional.

The Rila Monastery is under UNESCO patronage as a monument of an extraordinary value and significance for the world culture.

One can get to the Monastery along a first-class asphalt road. There is regular bus transport connecting it to the town of: Rila (19 km), Blagoevgrad (40 km), Dupnitsa (44 km) and Sofia (110 km). A whole tourist town originated around the Monastery with accommodation for the numerous guests and fans of the Monastery.

A tourist town has sprung round the Monastery, offering accomodation to the numerous visitors and admirers. If you have decided to spend the night here, you have a choice: it is the most romantic to do this in the Monastery itself and the cheapest way to do this, although with only basic conveniences, is in the tourist hostel (in seven-, nine- and twenty-bed rooms. The biggest hotel in the area - the Rilets Hotel is situated at a distance of 1 km in the direction of Kiril Meadow. The Tsarev Vruh Hotel (two-star) has been completely renovated offering servicing of high quality and traditional Bulgarian cuisine in its several establishments. The asphalt road continues after the Monastery (into the mountain) for up to 7 to 8 km, to Kirilova Polyana (Кiril Meadow), where there is another tourists settlement with accommodation and food-related possibilities. After about 30-40 min walk eastwards along a marked route one can visit the retreat and the grave of Sveti Ivan Rilski, today with a small chapel nearby. There is a belief that the one who succeeds passing in the hole of the cave, where he had retreated as a hermit, without leaning on or touching the rocks is considered pious

The Rila Monastery is a point from which you can set out on several marked hiking routes around the Rila Mountain:

To the Ribni Ezera (Fish Lakes) Chalet, through the above mentioned Kiril Meadow (4 to 5-hour walk), to Macedonia Chalet (a 5-hour walk), to the Ivan Vazov Chalet (a 5-hour walk), to the 7 Rila Lakes Chalet (6 to 7-hour walk), to the peak and the chalet of Malyovitsa (6 to 7-hour walk).

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