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Popular NameRila Monastery
Orthodox NameSaint Ivan of Rila
Rila Monastery - location mapThe Rila monastery lies in the very Rila mountain, at 1,147 meters above sea level. It is situated 117km away from Sofia to the south, and is no doubt the most popular tourist site among all monasteries in Bulgaria equally for its size, natural surroundings, architecture, wall paintings and ancient history. The monastery is flanked by the small mountain rivers of Rilska and Drushlyavitsa and is only 4 hours walking distance from the Malyovitsa peak, rising at 2,729 meters above sea level. The highest peak of the Rila mountain, Mousala (2925 meters), which is also the Balkan peninsulas highest point, is further away at about 8 hours walk. The monastery offers a great view to the surrounding peaks of the mountain and represents a developed tourist sight with all the accompanying facilities such as souvenir shops, restaurants and inns.

History and general info
The monastery is believed to have been founded by a hermit, John of Rila, in the 10th century, during the reign of the Bulgarian Tzar Peter (927-968). St John of Rila, whose relics are exhibited for pilgrims in the main church, in fact lived in a cave about half-an-hour walk away from the present-day monastery complex. The monastery itself is considered to have been built by his scholars, who came to the place to be taught by him.

The monastery has enjoyed great respect and privileges ever since it was established. For instance, all the Bulgarian tzars from Ivan Assen II (1218-1241) to the fall of Bulgaria under Ottoman rule at the time of Ivan Shishman (1371-1393) made generous donations to the monastery. The Donation Deed of Tzar Ivan Shishman (1378) testifies to that and also to the preferences the monastery benefited from. The official support helped the monastery grow into a cultural and religious centre of that time. Indeed it saw its prime in the 12-14th centuries and its upsurge was broken only by the arrival of the Ottomans in the end of the 14th century, which was followed by raids and destruction of the complex in the mid-15th century.

The turn of the 15th century saw the revival of the establishment. This was done with the assistance of the Russian orthodox church, which gave donations to visiting monks in the form of books, money, and church accessories in the second half of the 15th century. The national Renaissance period of the 18th and 19th centuries gave a further impetus to the recovery of the monastery. At that time, the complex was reconstructed and renovated with donations of wealthy Bulgarians from all over the country (Koprivshtitsa, Teteven, Chirpan, Stara Zagora, Samokov, Sofia).

The present-day look of the monastery dates back to the 19th century. The residential buildings, which form a closed irregular quadrangle, started in 1816. In the middle of the inner courtyard rises the oldest building of the complex - an impressive stone tower, built by the local feudal Sebastocrator Hrelyu in 1334-1335. A small church, which is just a few years younger (1343) stands next to the tower. In more recent times, a belfry was added to the tower (1844). Around that time, the monasterys main church, the Nativity of the Virgin, was built as well. It was built by protomaster Pavel Ivanovich (May 1, 1834 October 26, 1837), which is testified by a marble plaque, inserted into the cornice of the open gallery above the entrance of the church. The church is a 5-domed one with three altar niches and two side chapels. One of the biggest valuables of the church is its wooden iconostasis with azure fretwork. The wall paintings, finished in 1846, were made by many artists, but it was only the famous Zahari Zograf (whose work can be still seen in quite a few monasteries nowadays) who signed below his works. Besides, the monastery treasures a number of valuable icons painted in the 14th-19th centuries.

The appearance of the present-day monastery buildings was given by the first Bulgarian architekton Aleksi Rilets. He designed the architectural plan and guided the construction of the eastern wing (started on May 1, 1816), the north wing with its famous monastery kitchen and the western wing (finished in 1819). This is testified to by three plaques above the doors of the mill, the Samokov and the Dupnitsa entrances. Besides his name, the plaques contain the names of Fathers Superior Yosif and Teodosii. Following a devastating fire in 1833, Aleksi Rilets ran the reconstruction of the ruined wooden part of the monastery with the help of 3,000 master builders, who managed to finish it within just 10 days. A wooden kiosk with an inscription built by master Kastyo of Debur in April 1834 marked the conclusion of the recovery works. The construction of the southern wing of the monastery (1846-1847) in the style of architekton Aleksi Rilets was led by master Milenko, as learnt by a brick inscription above the cornice of the western wall of the wing built by him: 1846 Milenko Oustabashi, Radomir.

The entire complex is quite impressive for its size. The 4-floor residential part consists of no less than 300 monks cells, 4 chapels, an abbots room, a kitchen, a library and guestrooms for donors. The kitchen is particularly interesting for its really huge cooking vessels. The exterior of the monastery is no less intriguing for its high and severe stone walls (reaching 4 floors and even more at some places) cut through by small windows reminding of a military fort rather than a monastery.

Once in the complex, it is worth visiting the monasterys museum, which hosts a unique work of art, namely The Raphaels Cross. The cross is made of a whole piece of wood (81cm x 43cm) and is named after its creator. The monk used fine chisels, small knives and magnifying lens to carve 104 religious scenes and 650 small figures into the cross. The cross was finished in 1802 after the monk worked on it for no less than 12 years, losing his sight upon completion.

Similarly to other Bulgarian monasteries that survived during Ottoman times, the Rila monastery has acted as a centre of spiritual and cultural life for the Bulgarian nation during the foreign rule. During that time, the monks created new works and made copies of medival Bulgarian authors, representing mainly the Turnovo and Mount Athos schools.

The monastery was declared a national historical monument in 1976, while in 1983 it was inscribed in UNESCOs list of world heritage.
Accommodation and food
The monastery offers accommodation while the area around it has grown into a developed tourist centre with plenty of restaurants and hotels. Once in the neighbourhood, it is worth trying the delicious mountain trout caught in the Rilska river or special breading pools by the river and offered in most of the restaurants around.
Price for a bed at the monastery: 15 USD
There is a good, signed asphalt road off the main road from Sofia to the southern border checkpoint of Kulata that passes through the town of Rila and then leads straight to the monasterys gates.
Contact phones
+359 70542208 
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Comments for Rila Monastery

Published by Dimitrova on 03 Nov 2012, 02:11
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I like it.
Published by Anisha on 05 Sep 2012, 08:53
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Subject: GdjPMkpirh

I really wish there were more airtcels like this on the web.
Published by Amy on 02 Sep 2012, 13:43
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Subject: SsncQmOTEjet

Katie, I love this post. When I'm in the garden I often foegrt to lift my sight from the narrow task at hand. I like the metaphor of playing with the garden like a puppy. I get that! Sometimes throwing a stick for my dog is just what I need to see the big picture. In horse riding I've heard this called Keep your eyes wide. In other words, utilize a soft, wide gaze. Looking this way can help one to listen . Thanks for putting together this site ans sharing your wisdom and experiences.
Published by Ioann on 25 Jun 2012, 14:53
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Subject: Kak sviazat'sia s monastyrem?

Kak sviazat'sia s monastyrem po elektronnoy pochte?
Published by Iosa Stitt on 12 Jun 2012, 21:05
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Subject: Physical healing at Rila Monestery.

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Photo gallery

Rila Monastery - outside view
Rila Monastery - outside view

Rila Monastery - the complex
Rila Monastery - the complex

Rila Monastery - the complex
Rila Monastery - the complex

Rila Monastery - the yard
Rila Monastery - the yard

Rila Monastery - the yard
Rila Monastery - the yard

Rila Monastery - the church
Rila Monastery - the church

Rila Monastery - the church entrance
Rila Monastery - the church entrance

Rila Monastery - the church and the tower
Rila Monastery - the church and the tower

Rila Monastery - the Tzar Boris III's grave
Rila Monastery - the Tzar Boris III's grave

Rila Monastery - mountain view
Rila Monastery - mountain view

Rila Monastery - the tower
Rila Monastery - the tower

Rila Monastery - the water-mill
Rila Monastery - the water-mill

Rila Monastery - the cook-house
Rila Monastery - the cook-house

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