Customer Service: +44 (0) 1253 895476

A+ A A-

Rila Monastery

Rila Monastery is the largest and most famous Eastern Orthodox Monastery in Bulgaria. Situated just over an hours drive from Bansko to the north it is situated in the southwestern Rila Mountains some 1147m (3763ft) above sea level. It attracts over a million visitors each year from all over the world.

Founded in the 10th Century the Monastery is named after its founder, the hermit Saint Ivan of Rila (876-946 AD). It is rightly regarded as one of Bulagria's most important cultural, historical and architectural monuments and is depicted on the back of the 1 lev banknotes issued in 1999.

The hermit Ivan lived in a cave not far from the site without any material possessions whilst the Monastery was built by his students who came to the mountains to receive their education. This was during the rule of Tsar Peter I (927-968 AD).

Re-erected during the 14th Century by the feudal lord Hrelyu and the oldest parts of the current building date from this time - The Tower of Hrelja and the small church just next to it. The arrival of the Ottomans in the late 14th Century saw the destruction of the building by the mid 15th century.

Thanks to donations by the Sultana Mara Branković, the Russian Orthodox Church and the Rossikon monastery of Mount Athos, the Rila Monastery was rebuilt in the end of the 15th century by three brothers from the region of Kyustendil. With Sultana Mara Branković's influence Ivan of Rila's relics were moved from Trnovo into the new complex in 1469.

The complex acted as a depository of Bulgarian language and culture in the ages of foreign rule. During the time of the Bulgarian National Revival (18th-19th century), it was destroyed by fire in 1833 and then reconstructed between 1834 and 1862 with the help of wealthy Bulgarians from the whole country, under the famous architect Alexi Rilets. The erection of the residential buildings began in 1816, while a belfry was added to the Tower of Hrelyu in 1844. Neofit Rilski founded a school in the monastery during the period. The monastery is known as being one of the hideouts of Bulgarian revolutionaries such as Vassil Levski, Gotse Delchev, Peyo Yavorov and etc. The monastery complex, regarded as one of the foremost masterpieces of Bulgarian National Revival architecture, was declared a national historical monument in 1976 and became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. Since 1991 it has been entirely subordinate to the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church.
On 25 May 2002, Pope John Paul II visited Rila monastery during his pilgrimage to Bulgaria. He was greeted by the Monastery's igumen, Bishop Ioan, who had been an observer at the Second Vatican Council.

The whole complex occupies an area of 8,800 m² and is rectangular in form, centred around the inner yard (3,200 m²), where the tower and the main church are situated.
Main church
The main church of the monastery was erected in the middle of the 19th century. Its architect is Pavel Ioanov, who worked on it from 1834 to 1837. The church has five domes, three altars and two side chapels, while one of the most precious items inside is the gold-plated iconostasis, famous for its wood-carving, the creation of which took five years to four handicraftsmen. The frescoes, finished in 1846, are the work of many masters from Bansko, Samokov and Razlog, including the famous brothers Zahari Zograf and Dimitar Zograf. The church is also home to many valuable icons, dating from the 14th to the 19th century. Porticos in the courtyard have Mamluk influence with the striped painting and the domes, which became more popular in the Ottoman Empire after the conquest of Egypt. It is truly a remarkable sight to see. The use of cameras and video recorders is forbidden inside the main church
Residential part
The four-storey (not counting the basement) residential part of the complex consists of 300 chambers, four chapels, an abbot's room, a kitchen (noted for its uncommonly large vessels), a library housing 250 manuscripts and 9,000 old printed matters, and a donor's room. The exterior of the complex, with its high walls of stone and little windows, resembles a fortress more than a monastery.
Monastery museum
The museum of the Rila Monastery is particularly famous for housing Rafail's Cross, a wooden cross made from a whole piece of wood (81×43 cm). It was whittled down by a monk named Rafail using fine burins and magnifying lenses to recreate 104 religious scenes and 650 miniature figures. Work on this piece of art lasted not less than 12 years before it was completed in 1802, when the monk lost his sight. The use of cameras and video recorders is forbidden inside the museum.

Login or Register



User Registration
or Cancel