Information about the Rila Monastery.
Summary of contents of this page:
Where is the Rila Monastery located?.
The Rila Monastery is located within the Rila National Park . It is in a mountainous area 1.150 altitude meters, in fact the monastery walls are surrounded by wooded hills, green in Summer and multicolored when the colors of Autumn arrive. It is distant from Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, in only 125 km, Most of the way to get there is a motorway but the last section is a mountain road so in winter you have to make sure before going up that the road is clear of snow.
Apart from the religious component, The Rila Monastery is one of the symbols of the country for its importance in the history of Bulgaria; It is the largest monastery in Bulgaria and also stands out for its unique architecture and the rich decoration of its exterior and interior, unique in europe. But let's go by parts:
History of the Rila Monastery.
It was founded in the 10th century by the monk Ivan Rilski (Ivan de Rila, which in Spain would be Juan de Rila) and his disciples, Ivan Rilski is considered the first hermit of Bulgaria, lived for years in a cave near the Monastery, cave that can be visited by taking a short but very beautiful route through a nearby forest. After Ivan Rilski, with the help of some disciples he founded the Monastery. It has always been a cultural and spiritual center that despite the 5 centuries of Ottoman occupation that Bulgaria suffered between the 14 and the 19, helped preserve the culture, Bulgarian religion and traditions preventing them from being lost.
In the fourteenth century the fortress tower was built which still remains today, and during that century the monastery reached its maximum splendor as a feudal entity with power over many towns and nearby lands.
Talented writers, painters, masters of carpentry and other arts left fascinating manuscripts, frescoes of high artistic value, remarkable works of art on wood, icons and many other pieces of art; The Monastery performed similar functions to those of the Palaces of Western Europe and was where the best artists and craftsmen of the country developed their work.
The fall of Bulgaria under the Ottoman yoke from 1.396 stopped this artistic development, but the monastery and its monks knew how to protect the original Bulgarian culture and tradition within its walls despite the fact that the Ottomans prevented it from continuing to develop its spiritual action on the Bulgarians. During these centuries it suffered fires and significant damage. The current image of the monastery is from the 18th and 19th centuries when it was rebuilt and renovated after the expulsion of the Ottomans. It is currently the most important monastery for the Bulgarian Orthodox Church.
What to see in the Rila monastery.
Rila Monastery can be visited every day and has become the main excursion for visitors arriving in the capital., Sofia, whether in search of culture and traditions or a heritage with an aesthetic that is unknown in Western Europe. In fact it is one of the 9 objects in Bulgaria that are World Heritage of the UNESCO.
The current complex includes religious buildings, residential buildings and museums in an area of 8.800 m2. The outer limit is formed by walls of 24 meters high in the shape of an irregular pentagon, This is due to the fact that initially the monastery was conceived as a fortress whose interior is accessed only by two entrances. The interior houses the medieval tower-fortress of 1335 (Jreliyova Tower), a small church of 1335, the main church of 1837 of 5 domes, several small churches, buildings for accommodation with 300 monastic cells, 4 chapels, a dining room, a kitchen inside a building of 22 meters high, a library with manuscripts from the 10th to the 19th century, 30 richly decorated guest rooms, a museum and the most visited, a large central courtyard that gives access to all these buildings. However if you want to know more about this monastery and know some places “secrets” that do not appear in the tourist guides you can read another of our articles about this monastery: Rila monasteries: secret corners.
In that article we talk to you for example about the Monastery Bakery, where you can buy homemade breads and buns, called “mekitsi”, which are among the best that can be found in the country.
Strolling through the courtyard of the Rila Monastery is a delight that makes us think that we have arrived at a fairytale palace, for its curious monastery aesthetic and its large proportions. If you enter the main church, Surprise continues to accompany the western visitor because then he finds fantastic and huge frescoes of religious scenes on the walls, all in bright colors, and antique wooden portraits (called "icons" in general), something totally exotic in the eyes of the western tourist accustomed to the aesthetics of Catholic churches where the walls are not decorated…
Hiking trails in the surroundings.
Being within the Rila National Park, Rila Monastery is the starting point for many hiking trails to the nearby mountains. In its vicinity, just 8 km, there are also the famous 7 Rila glacial lakes which will be the subject of a future article in this blog, a 21 km is Musala Peak (2.925 meters high) which is the highest of all the Balkans and many other natural attractions that make the region an ideal destination for fans of hiking in Europe. From the Rila Monastery, you can also walk to the cave where Ivan Rilski lived alone for years. (Ivan de Rila).
Rila Monastery hours:
The monastery is open to visitors from 7.00 a 20.00 hours all year.
The Khreliyova Tower is open to the public of the 1 from June to 30 of September
The Ethnographic Museum and the Museum of Ecclesiastical History:
June to September: every day of 08.30 – 19.30
October to May: every day of 08.30 – 16.30
These are the official hours, however we warn you that the Ethnographic Museum is usually closed except in Summer. The Museum of Ecclesiastical History does comply with the Summer and Winter hours indicated above.
Ecclesiastical History Museum:
Adults 8 BGN.
Students 1 BGN.
Family season ticket (parents with children) 3 BGN per adult and 1 BGN for a child.
How to get to Rila Monastery:
The Rila Monastery tour from Sofia is one of the most requested by travelers. If you go by rental car: from Sofia take the A3 motorway towards Grecia and halfway out of the motorway (there is a sign on the highway itself that announces the detour to the Monastery). Then continue the regional road passing through the towns of Rila and Pastra until reaching the Monastery. The last section is a mountain road but, thanks to tourism, it is well paved, unlike other county roads in the country… If you go by rental car we recommend you read our article on “Traveling by car in Bulgaria“.
You can also take a taxi from Sofia to the Rila Monastery
Other information of interest about the Rila Monastery:
The Monastery offers accommodation, has some monastic cells adapted for visitors. It is only a requirement to be married if you want to occupy one of them as a couple. To make the reservation it is necessary to contact the monastery's phone number and request accommodation (but the monks only speak in Bulgarian).
If you think about travel to Bulgaria, Count on us and we will prepare a customized itinerary that may include a visit to this Rila Monastery and other active tourism activities. You can be accompanied by a local guide-translator who will reveal all the secrets and attractions of Bulgaria that are still unknown to most tourists from Western Europe., or make the trip at your own pace by rental car and with charming hotels reserved by us.