Rila Monastery

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A temptation to travel Bulgaria to see the Monastery and its unique architecture

Travel Bulgaria – The Rila Monastery – unity of spirituality, culture and nature… The monastery has a unique architecture and takes about 8800 sq.m. When one looks from outside, it resembles a fortress. Due to its 24-metre stone walls, the monastery has the shape of an irregular pentagon. Once the visitor travel Bulgaria is in, though, they are impressed by its architecture. By its impressive arches and colonnades, covered wooden stairs and carved verandas…

St. Ivan of Rila

The hermit St. Ivan of Rila founded the monastery during the rule of Tsar Peter I. It is normal that the monastery bears the hermit’s name now. In fact, the hermit lived in a cave without any material possessions not far from the monastery’s location. The long history of the buildings in the Rila Monastery goes back to late 10th century. Then, the monastic community that the Rila hermit had founded, put up the first buildings. They were not far from the cave which he occupied. Normal as it is, St. Ivan Rilski’s death was the beginning of his legendary fame. The fame of a protector of the Bulgarian people.

Monastic Community

Eventually, in the XIV century, after changing its settlement several times, the monastic community settled in the fortress of Hrelyo. He was a feudal lord under Serbian suzerainty. The oldest building in the complex, the Tower of Hrelyo, date from this period, 1334–1335. It was the monastery’s fortress. Also the place where monks lived in times of trouble. There was a small church built next to Hrelyo’s Tower as well. Gradually, the influence of the Monastery grows bigger (travellers to Bulgaria can still feel it). Due to that, its fame spreaded far away from the borders of Bulgaria. People built new buildings to meet the needs of the already big enough monastic community. However, the arrival of the Ottomans in the end of the 14th century was followed by numerous raids. As a result of that, a destruction of the monastery in the middle of the 15th century followed as well. Due to donations, the Rila Monastery was rebuilt in the end of the 15th century by three brothers.

Bulgarian language and culture

The complex – the Rila Monastery, acted as a storehouse of the Bulgarian language and culture during the ages of foreign rule. During the time of the Bulgarian National Revival fire destroyed the monastery almost completely. Certainly that was a national tragedy. And very soon donations started arriving from the whole country. Thousands of masons as well as carpenters and assistant workers worked for the restoration of the monastery for free. Three Bulgarian master builders were in charge of the construction works. They were Alexi from the village of Rila, called Alexi Rilets; Milenko from the village of Radomir; and Pavel from the village of Krimin. The present Rila holy cloister, as we know it today, dates back to that time – the XIX century. And only the new part of the eastern wing of the monastery was built in the XX century.

Travel Bulgaria to feel the magic of the masterpiece called Rila Monastery

Thousands of people took part in the restoration of the holy place. Their efforts, thoughts, faith and will inspired the architecture of the Rila Monastery. So, today we call it ‘the spirit of the Revival’. And this same architecture becomes the material token of people’s desire for beauty, freedom and self-approving. This is the magic of this masterpiece called the Rila Monastery. Magic that not only in the past but today also leaves the visitors breathless. Many places in Bulgaria (Sofia for example in Sofia day tour ) have the magic to make your travel Bulgaria worth remembering. The church of the Nativity of the Virgin is the monastery’s main church and the core of the architectural ensemble. Its construction began in 1835. This church building is unique in the Balkans. The most famous Bulgarian painters at that time made the wall paintings in the Church of the Nativity of the Virgin.

The museum

A museum was established in Rila holy cloister at the end of the 19th century (Bulgarian tours can take you there). It exhibits items providing information about the history of the monastery throughout the centuries. The museum is mostly famous for housing Rafail’s Cross. This is a wooden cross. The master wood-carver is a monk named Rafail. He made the cross from a whole piece of wood (81×43 cm) He used the finest chisels and tools and worked not less than 12 years. Then, he could finally say he finished his masterpiece in 1802. Unfortunately, after that he lost his sight. The Cross depicts 104 religous scenes and 650 miniature figures.

Rila Monastery National Museum

In 1961 Rila Monastery becomes Rila Monastery National Museum. They declare it a National Historical Reserve in 1976. And in 1983 they include it in the List of World Cultural Heritage of UNESCO. In 1980 the International Federation of Travel Writers and Journalists also distinguished the Monastery with Golden Apple. This is the highest award for familiarization and cultural tourism for visit Bulgaria. Decree of the Council of Ministries of the Republic of Bulgaria reinstated the monastic status of the Rila Monastery in 1991. So today it is again the largest religious centre in the Bulgarian lands.

The Rila Monastery depicts a whole century. It’s an emanation of the artistic experience of the Bulgarian people; of the mythology deeply rooted in their attitude to the world. Not far from Sofia or Bansko are the Rila Monastery and the Rila Mountain. They are among the best Bulgaria tourist attractions. And attract many Bulgarian and foreign tourists with their serenity and peacefulness. Also their beauty and last but not least the history that lays behind this magnificent holy cloister “the Rila Monastery”. Contact us to travel Bulgaria and feel the magic! If you like to visit similar places of interest, take walking tour Istanbul.

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  1. That is something that souldn’t be missed. Rila Monastery is the place that preserved Bulgarian culture in the difficult times of their history. The monastery is not far from the capital of Bulgaria. It is also interesting to visit it with other monasteries. Lots of history there. Visit the library. It’s unique.


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