Rila Monastery

Rila Monastery is the largest and most well-known Eastern Orthodox monastery in Bulgaria about 120 km south of the capital, along the Rilska River. It is found nearly 1,200 meters above sea level, in the Rila Monastery Nature Park.

Named after St. Ivan of Rilski, a tenth-century hermit who lived in a nearby cave, the monastery has been built, burnt, and rebuilt over the centuries, with the latest construction dating to the 1800s. Enter the courtyard, and you will be stunned by the perfect harmony of the church, with its graceful arches in bold stripes of the black and white set under a row of sculpted gargoyles, tiled roofs, and five domes reaching towards the sky. In the distance are the peaks of the Rila Mountains, complimenting an oasis of serenity perfect for religious hermits and modern visitors alike.

Throughout the centuries Rila Monastery has always been the spiritual, educational and cultural centre of Bulgaria. During the Bulgarian Revival Period (18th – 19th centuries) Rila Monastery set up approximately 50 cloisters in the large Bulgarian towns and villages where some of the most well-educated Rila monks performed their religious rites, established schools, and brought pilgrims to the monastery.

In 1961 Rila Monastery was declared Rila Monastery National Museum. In 1976 it was announced a National Historical Reserve, and in 1983 it was included in the List of World Cultural Heritage of UNESCO. In 1991 the state restored the religious status of the abbey and closed Rila Monastery National Museum institution. Rila Monastery, Hrelyo’s Tower and the monastery buildings were declared a group architectural, artistic and historical complex of national importance.

The wood-carved iconostases and the wall-paintings by masters from Samokov and Bansko are impressive. Many artists and wood-carvers worked in the temple, but only Zahari Zograf left his signature. The church preserves the coffin with the relics of the founder of the monastery St. Ivan of Rila, the 12th century Virgin Hodegetria wonderworking icon, the 17th century St. Ivan of Rila wonderworking icon, and many other iconostasis and icons for believers to kiss from the 19th century.

An interesting fact that is worth to be mentioned is that in the monastery was buried the heart of the Bulgarian Tsar Boris III, who is known for having been the saviour of the Bulgarian Jews from the apparent doom. During the Second World War, he refuses to deport from Bulgaria around 50 000 Bulgarian and many foreign citizens with Jewish ancestry.

If you want to come and visit Rila Monastery, don’t hesitate to contact us. Our professional team will make your tour unforgettable.