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Rila Monastery in Bulgaria

Rila Monastery: Treasury of Bulgaria

Rila Monastery was founded around the 10th century by the St. John of Rila as part of the Orthodox Church. Rila Monastery is more than millennia old and the witness of the history of the region for a very long time. With its location, up to the Rila Mountains, Rila Monastery is the largest monastery in Bulgaria and very important religious and touristic centre for the country. Rila Monastery is also known as the treasury of Bulgaria. Because Rila Monastery is one of the most iconic and important complexes of the country. One of the most unique this of the monastery is its location. Rila Monastery located at the very heart of the Rila Mountain in the place where Drushlyavitsa and Rilska rivers meet with each other. Rila Monastery is definitely one of the top places that should be visited during your time in Sofia and Bulgaria.

Brief History of Rila Monastery

Historical records show that the Rila Monastery founded during the reign of Tsar Peter I (927-986) by the St. John of Rila. You may encounter with the name St. Ivan of the Rila which refers the same person in historical records. St. John of Rila was living in a cave which is around 4 km away from the current location of the monastery. Rila Monastery constructed by the students who came to get an education from the St. John of Rila. It is a typical example of a remote and numinous place to contact with god. Starting from the construction of Rila Monastery, it always supported by the Bulgarian rulers. Every single one of the Tsar of the Empire donated a very large amount of money to the Rila Monastery to support its activities. As a result of this support, Rila Monastery became the centre of the Bulgarian national consciousness until the Ottoman conquest over the region.

Rila Monastery in Bulgaria
Rila Monastery’s architecture is definelty stunning (Source).

Rila Monastery partly reconstructed at the first half of the 14th century by a lord, Hrelyu. The oldest building in the monastery you can see today belongs to this period. Especially Hrelja Tower and a small church very next to it are the most prominent ones. The bishops throne and engraved gates also belong to the same period. After the Ottoman conquest, Rila Monastery lost its importance over the region and damaged in time. As a result of donations made by Sultana Mara Brankovic who was the member of the Russia Orthodox Church, Rila Monastery rebuilt at the end of the 15th century. Also, ruins of the original monastery moved to new complex from Tarnovo in 1469. We knew that there were more than 60 monks at the Rila Monastery during its peak times. Today, more than a million people visit here every year. Image of the Rila Monastery was also on the 1 Leva banknote issued by the Bulgarian National Bank in 1999. Rila Monastery added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1983. Please take a look at the interactive map below to see the places you can visit at the Rila Monastery.

Where is Rila Monastery?

Rila Monastery located about 130 km south of the Sofia at the peak of the Rila Mountains. Location of the Rila Monastery definitely within the hearth of nature. Besides its religious features its nature also mesmerizing. Despite its remote location, Rila Monastery is a couple of hours far away from the Sofia city centre. Because of its remote and close location, Rila Monastery attracts over a million of tourist every year. Also, you can stay one of the hotels around the Rila Monastery to maximize your trip.

How to Go to The Rila Monastery?

If you have your car or already rented one you just new to follow this route. It only takes 2 hours from Sofia city center to go to the Rila Monastery. But if you don’t have car or looking for a more cheaper option you take one of the public buses from Sofia. Publis buses generally leaves around 10:20 from the West bus station (Ovcha Kupel). You may find the departure and arrival time of the buses to Rila Monastery from Bulgaria or take a look to this link for more information.

Ovcha Kupel to Rila Monastery10:2013:0011 Leva
Ovcha Kupel to Rila Town18:2020:1511 Leva

The last may be the best way to visit and discover Rila Monastery is to join the guided tours. You may find information about guided tours at the end of the posts. By joining guided tours, you will get detailed information about the region and Rila Monastery, transportation advantage and more. Please don’t forget to share your insights and experience at the comment section about the tours to improve the quality of this content.

Places to Visit in Rila Monastery

Rila Monastery is not a single building. There are multiple building in different areas. Because during its long-standing history, Rila Monastery rebuilt several times on different location but they are close to each other. You can visit every one of these places during your time in Rila Monastery. Actually, you should visit as many as possible of them.

Old Hermitage

Old Hermitage located at about 5 km east of the Rila Monastery. You can visit the Church of Dormition of St. John of Rila. The actual construction date of the church is not clear but there are several mentions about it, 1385, 1742 and 1746. Old Hermitage renovated in 1820 and new sections constructed for the monks who are looking for more strict life and religious purposes. You can visit the church here. The church made by stone and there some fresh preserved. Also, you can see the cave where St. John spent his last twelve years of his life. This is truly fascinating for visitors. On a remote location, living only for God and his belief, St. John is really a person we all have to know. You need to take walk through road from the Rila Monastery to go to the Old Hermitage and church. About 20 minutes later you will see signs. You can also visit the grave of the St. John of Rila in here.

Old Hermitage at Rila Monastery
Old Hermitage at Rila Monastery (Source).

St. Luke Church

You can visit the hermitage of St. Apostle and Evangelist Luke on the same to the Old Hermitage. St. Luke was the nephew of St. John’s and this hermitage made for his honour and memory. It is very similar to other building, small church, places to pray and stay during worship. This small church probably built between 1789 and 1799. Paintings at the church are still alive and definitely worth to see. You will ask yourself how did they make all of these hundreds of years ago. Commitment and determination of these people are truly admiring. Also, it is really good to see all of this religious treasure protected under the Ottoman reign and we are lucky to visit those places.

St. Luke Church at Rila Monastery
St. Luke Church at Rila Monastery (Source).

Intercession of the Theotokos

There is another important place to visit about 3 km east of the Rila Monastery. Intercession of the Theotokos is a hermitage where is very close to the St. Luke Church. This hermitage built by the masters of Rila village (Michael and Radoyko) in 1805. You will find an altar, central nave and narthex at the hermitage site. There is also a hall with 4 meters x 12 meters dimensions. You may see a couple of nice and beautiful painting in Intercession of the Theotokos.

Intercession of the Theotokos at Rila Monastery
Intercession of the Theotokos at Rila Monastery (Source).

The Hermitage of St. Theodosius

Another place you can visit in Rila Monastery is The Hermitage of St. Theodosius. This hermitage dedicated to the St. Theodosius who lived inTyrnovo. There is a two-story church and residential building in here. This church was active until the communist regime in Bulgaria. Monks were still living in here until their departure in 1961. It is the newest building in the Rila Monastery.

The Hermitage of St. Theodosius at Rila Monastery
The Hermitage of St. Theodosius at Rila Monastery (Source).

I gave information about the most popular three places you can visit at Rila Monastery. There are more places you can visit around the Rila Monastery, old churches, nunnery, graveyard and more. These lands are the home of the Orthodox belief in Bulgaria and the part of the Bulgarian national esteem. Don’t forget to check the Rila Monastery interactive map above or at the end of the post.

Rila Monastery Tours

You may find the top three rated Rila Monastery tour to join below. These tour generally takes your day and last around 8 to 9 hours. They will pick up you from your hotel in Sofia and handle the transportation. Please don’t forget check comment for each tour before buying of them. If you have suggestions about Rila Monastery tours please share them at the comment section.

Rila Monastery FAQs

How to Go to the Rila Monastery from Sofia?

You can go to the Rila Monastery from Sofia by using the public buses depart from the Ovcha Kupel bus station at the Sofia city centre. You can check the location of Ovcha Kupel bus station from here. Also there shuttle buses you can use to go to the Rila Monastery from Sofia for 20 to 30 Euros.

Can you stay at Rila Monastery?

No, it is not possible to stay inside the Rila Monastery but you can stay hotel located around Rila Monastery.

Where to stay Rila Monastery?

There are multiple options to stay around the Rila Monastery from camps to hotel. You just need to decide what you want and book it in advance before you arrive at Rila Monastery.

Where is Rila Monastery?

Rila Monastery located around 130 km south of the Sofia city centre at the Rila Mountains.

When was Rila Monastery built?

The exact construction date is not known but the historical records show that the Rila Monastery built around 927.

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