Rila Monastery (The Monastery of St. Ivan of Rila)

The Rila Monastery is the biggest monastery in Bulgaria.

It lies hidden amid the thick deciduous forests of Rila Mountain at about 1147 m above mean sea level. From the outside it doesn’t seem to be anything special but once you walk through the entrance gate everything changes: the bleakness of its 24-metre high fortification walls is replaced by the immaculate beauty of its inner building complex. The arches and the colonnades, the covered wooden stairs, the mural paintings and the icons all preserve the love of the hard working Bulgarians and the patient monks who built this place with their own hands in the 10th century. This also makes it the oldest monastery in Bulgaria. In 1961 the monastery was declared a National Museum, in 1976, it became a National Historical Reserve, and in 1983 it made it to UNESCO’s World Heritage List. But what is it really? Well, it is a mixture of culture, spirit and nature, taking up an area of 8800 sq m. The most remarkable building of the complex is the main church which was constructed in the period 1834- 1837 by architect Pavel Ioanov. The grave of Tsar Boris III, the last Bulgarian monarch, can also be found there.

The monastery offers accommodation, so those of you who wish to get a first-hand experience in monastic life are more than welcome to spend a night or two in this holy cloister. The Rila Monastery is located approximately 100 km south of Sofia, the capital city, and just a couple of kilometres away from Borovets, the oldest ski resort in Bulgaria. See also our short video from the monastery here.

Photo by D.Alexov