The Rila Monastery

Rila Monastery is the most outstanding monument of Bulgarian culture and architecture of the Revival period, listed in the UNESCO World heritage List. It is a complex of cultural, dwelling and farming buildings, located at the heart of the Rila Mountain.

Rila Monastery

Rila Monastery is the most outstanding monument of Bulgarian culture and architecture of the Revival period. It is situated at the heart of the Rila Mountain at an altitude of 1147 m above the sea level on the right bank of the Rila River, 117 km away from Sofia. The Rila Monastery is listed in the UNESCO World heritage List, as a monument of an extraordinary value and significance for the world culture.

The monastery is a wide complex built in a remarkable architectural style.

Right in the center of the complex raises Hrelyo Tower - a powerful stone fortification, the sole preserved building of Medieval Times (1335).

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.

The monastery was founded by the hermit St. Ivan Rilski in the 10th century. Ivan Rilski is one of the greatest Bulgarian saints. He was born about 867 in the village of Skrino near Dupnitsa town. He was a shepherd and at the age of 25 he went in “St. Dimitar” monastery in Osogovo Mountain. He got his ecclesiastical education here and became a monk but soon he left the monastery and became a hermit. At last he settled in the marvelous Rila Mountain where he lived to the end of his life. He started healing the locals and preached the words of God in a way that anyone could understand.

The Rila monk became popular and soon the rumour spread all over, and even the Bulgarian king Petar I came from the capital Preslav in Rila to see him. But Ivan Rilski just bowed to the king from a distance. He didn’t accept the gold that king Petar I send him as well. People started to respect him even more and other monks and hermits came to him to be his disciples. They built hovels around and thus the foundation of the most famous Bulgarian monastery was laid.

The local lord Stefan Dragolov (Hrelio) built the monastery at the place where it is now, but only the monument “Hreliova Tower” left from the middle aged building. The Rila monastery enjoyed great privileges and all the rulers and lords made a costly gifts and donations. During the 15th century the monastery was destroyed by the ottomans. The beginning of 19 century marks the start of the renovation of the complex. During this period the residence complex and the church “Virgin Mary’s nativity” were built.

The most precious wealth of the monastery is the unique wall paintings. The oldest are in the chapel of “Hreliova Tower”. They perform three stages of the St. Ivan Rilski life. The paintings date back from the 14th century. The oldest icon preserved in the monastery is from the same period as well. It is devoted to St. Ivan Rilski. Most of the other wall paintings are made by the great icon - painter Zhari Zograf. During the 19th century he painted most of the churches and monasteries in Bulgaria.

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