I wrote this guide to Rila Monastery 10 years ago for a tourist site. As its hosting services are closing, I am moving the info here, someone might find it useful.
If there is one place I recommend to see in Bulgaria,it will be The Rila Monastery.It is the heart and soul of Bulgarians, a cradle of the ancient slavic spirit that preserved our nation through the 5 centuries of turkish invasion. A real piece of art , wherever your eyes turn, you just can’t get enough of its beauty….
Situated 120km from Sofia, 52 km from Dupnitsa and 22km from the village of Rila,the Rila monastery is nestled in the heart of Rila Mountain in the narrow canyon of Rilska river ,surrounded by mountain peaks up to 2700m . The Monastery is build at 1 147m of altitude over an area of 8 800 square meters,from which the wings occupy 4 500sq.m.,the church 1000sq.m., the Hreljo tower 80 and the inner yard 3 220 sq.m. Its unique and authentic atmosphere where you get the feeling time stopped some centuries ago while you walk from floor to floor and the wooden stairs crack under your feet..u can almost smell the flavors in the old monastery kitchen with an endless black chimney finishing somewhere very high up above the 3rd floor…
As about the church u see it’s all painted with orthodox paintings from our best ever icon painters……
In the arcades surrounding the church from all 4sides the nuns and monks are still living, and famous apostles hid back from the Turks.
see what UNESCO says about this site.
08 oct 05 – On the 08 oct I started the reconstruction work of my Monastery page as totally unsatisfied with its previous content . Wrote the first 6 tips – great for a start ,got exhausted and lost inspiration….
After a sleepless night and lots of exchanged snowballs on yahoo messenger with .celticbhoy07 ,on the 17 oct 05 the major part of the body of this page was built or rewritten. Excuse me in making so many tips – I just couldn’t stop my muse this night….
In the mean time ,some strange stuff happened…I got a “continue browsing” button out of the blue , just in between ” Save and add more tips”and “Edit this Tip” – it must be the full moon’s fault – Ghosts of the net are fooling around on VT…. I have the honor to have acheived the impossible – 8 pics per tip – a mutation of VT -see the “Monastery Corridors” tip.
- Pros:Experience Bulgaria in its pure form
- In a nutshell:A Wonderful place in the heart of Rila mountainIvan Rilski – the Guardian saint of BulgariaSt Ivan Rilski was born somewhere between 876 and 880 AC in the small village of Skrino.
He was very religious from young age ,and after the death of his parents at the age of 25,he gave away all his posessions to the poor ,and became a monk in the Ruen Monastery “St Dimitar”. To improve his religious education , he wandered through the big and small monasteries along the Struma river and around Mount Vitosha,where he learned the foundations of the christianity. Living his life in austere fasting and prayers, first in a hut made out of branches and lately into a cave. Enriched by his experience and prayers , he decided to become a hermit and go in complete isolation. He entered the hardly accessible valley of Rila river and settled around the places where later was created his famous monastery. He inhabited first the cavity of a tree and lately moved in a cave next to its present grave. Discovered by shepards, the place started 2 attract people coming from remote places to the holy man for healing.They spread the words for him all the way to the King. King Peter, came from Sredets to the Tsarev hill ( King’s hill ) but did not go further ,where he payed tribute to the smoke from St Ivan’s fireplace ,exchanging with him letters and took back the gold he had brought to the holy man.
The first follower of the isolated life of Ivan Rilski,was the son of his brother named Luka. But his father did not agree and took him away against his will. Luka was bitten by a poisonous snake, died shortly after and was buried around the today’s chapel of “St Luka”. After him came others ,they built cells and a small church around the refuge of the Holy man and established the fondations of the Rila Monastery somewhere around 931 AC.
After the initiation of its first scholars ,St Ivan Rilski left them a written testament, designed the Monk Grigorii as in charge of the monastery ,and went back to isolation till his death on the 18 august 946.
Raising as a giant in the enchanted Rila forest.
A mighty fire in the dark ,a granite pilon of freedom.
Spreading knowledge and faith from centuries with all its means. For this the people praise him and relentlessly fly to him . To send there their prayers to God, so he releases them from evil. To let peace on earth, And good in people’s souls”
The words of Dr Gueorgi Lasarov written in 1956 greet you at the entrance .As They are in bulgarian only – I translated them for you.
You , weary traveller, that came such a long way to experience the Pure beauty of this place, take a sip of those mountain waters before you enter the holy place of us, Bulgarians….
There is an old tradition in Bulgaria to build water sources so that the ones drinking out of it, will bless you for your generosity. In this way your sins are forgiven.
Facing the parking lot where most of the busses stop ,you will most probably enter the monastery complex by the Dupnitsa Gate – an entrance in the high fortified walls.
Make sure you look at the sign at the left before you pass the second gate and enter the monastery yard.There you can read the story of the place once again to remember….
What is there to be seen :
1. Dupnitsa gate
4. Historical Museum
7. Police and Fire Department
8.Museum of Monastery Economy
9.Closters Clerk Room
10. Icon Exhibition
11.Ethnographic Museum at 3rd floor
12. Library at 2nd floor
13.Museum Guest Rooms 3rd floor
14. Samokov Gate
15. Post Office
Directions: besides that , there is still the Grave of Ivan Rilski and the chapel ,the holy Spring , The Rilska River
ok and here it is – the square balcony . I probably just don’t like angles or square shapes – that must be the reason. Otherwise I can’t deny it has beautiful ceilings and frescoes.
The different towns that made donations to rebuilt the monastery after the big fire in 1833, furnished their own ethnographic museum rooms , that were given their names. These towns are – Chirpan,Teteven, Koprivshtitza, Pazardjik, Zlatitsa , Kjustendil ,Sofia , Samokov, Panagyurishte, Pirot ,Gabrovo and Karlovo.
Completing the collection in the Ethnographic Museum located at the 3rd floor,the Teteven room one of the many memorial rooms mentioned above,from year 1845 is a lovely example of Bulgarian renaissance interior ,with bright tapistry, hand carved wooden ceillings , and intrique frescoes on the walls. The seats along the walls are called “cherdatzi”.
There are also a Koprivshtitza and other rooms
Directions: top floor of the monastery
The raw building of the present the three ship monastery church took 3 years 5 months and 25 days ( from 1 may 1834 to 26 oct 1837 ) the finishing work , and frescoes decoration took another 23 years ,all the way to 1860.
In the Cupola were build pottery pots with barely seen orifices,that are turning the monastery church into a real music instrument.
The unique church frescoes, in and out of the building ,are the bigest accomplishment of the Renaissance artisans. They are made by the Samokov crafsman school and its most brilliant artists – Zakhary Christovich Zograph, Dimitar Christov , Kosta Petrov Valjov,Ivan Nikolov and Stanislav Dospevski. They were helped be the Representants of the schoolof Razlog – Toma Vishanov , Dimitar Molerov and Simeon Molerov.The colors of the frescoes are so vibrant ,they look like they have been painted yesturday .
The funds for the building and decoration of the Rila Monastery were raised by the people , with the conscience that they were creating a monument and craddle of the bulgarian culture , religion and spirit.This mission inspired the artists to give the best they are capable of .
The wooden carved altar is created by the school of the Samokov artisans, founded in 1821 by Stoycho Fandukov from Solun ( Thessaloniki ,Greece ) and the brothers Peter and Gueorgi Dashin. The Debur Craftsman Petur Garka and Dimitar Stanishev joined their efforts to create the altar . It was finished in 1859 and its price was 59 689 Grosh.
To gold plate it , they used coins donated by the piligrims that were pressed and thinned.
The schoolof Samokov artisans was having its roots in the decorative art of the antiquity ,the Muslum east and the european motifs and compositions. But they were all applied and turned into a typical local art ,characteristic for the renaissance period in Bulgaria.
The Rila Monastery today is one of the biggest on the Balkan Peninsula.
From the dawn of the first monastery buildings ( in the first three centuries of its creation ) ,nothing remained but the legends of the white cells of the monks that existed southwest of the present grave of St. Ivan. After the place for the increasing monks community became too small, they moved to a terrace between the rivers of Drushliavitsa and Rila.
In 1335 started the second period in the construction of the monastery with the building of the Hreljo monastery tower in ,the only remaining building from that period till the present days. the Hreljo tower was built with the donations of the Vojvoda Hreljo( bulg.cheiftan),that also renewed the old buildings and build a small but massive Hreljo church in 1343.
The tower has 5 floors and is 35m high, in the upper floor there is a chapel “St Preobrajenie” The underground of the tower was used as prison.
Next to the clock on the left ,there is the year 1533 ,made out of bricks ,that designates the year when the tower was built.
Located at the base of the Hreljo Tower ,the icon and souvenirs shop offers a great variety of authentic bulgarian art and crafts. Aside of the beautiful Orthodox Icons , you can buy here traditional bulgarian costumes, dishes with the print of the monastery and all kinds of other things ,depending on how much money you wanna spend.
Theme: Local Craft
Saints ,angels and archangels are decorating the cupolas ,perfectly painted till the smallest detail. Every Cupola has a different saint , surrounded by an army of interlaced angels to guard him.
There are 7 more chapels located within the monastery walls , and 6 small churches outside.
Frescoes fom hell
Looking like apocalyptic scenes coming straight from a Broegel painting – the lowest level of frescoes at both sides of the main church entrance are remaining non restaurated. I find this definitely strange ,as all the rest of the art is in sparking condition. Maybe there is nobody that wants to touch the cursed scenes…..I might just ask the priest next time.
The Round Balcony
Looking like a giant mushroom on the roof ,the Round Balcony is my favorite one . I thought I will just put this one in ,but than it’s not fair ,you need to make up your mind – I will put the Square balcony too. A great observation point on the top floor….
Building of the Monastery Ring
In 1816 started the last and most massive construction period of the monastery that continued 54 years ,all the way till 1870. All rennaisance crafts were used to bring the monastery its present appearance. Inspiration was seeked all the way to the famous monastery of Aton , but the construction was done by a local artisan from the village of Rila called Aleksii. In 1816 he has built the north wing of the monastery ,in 1817 part of the east ,and 1819 the western wing.
On the 13 january 1833 a huge fire destroyed the new buildings, but all bulgarian towns sent help, workers and artisans to rebuilt what was destructed. For less than a year ,all damages from the fire were repaired. The old Hreljo church was destroyed aswell as it became too small for the ever incresing number of piligrims. The money was unsufficient to build all 4 wings with 4 floors ,so the Old Eastern wing ,located behind the church was compromisingly constructed only with 2. In 1847 the craftsman Milenko from the village of Radomir, built the massive south wing ,with which he closed the ring of buildings around the church.
In the Monastery there are 139 rooms ,equipped with 126 kitchens. 77 from those rooms are used by the priests ,clercs and so on, 62 rooms are for guests ( from which 39 small – for 105 persons ,and 23 big common rooms – accomodating 800 people. There are aswell another 45 rooms for monastery economy, kitchens , eating rooms , warehouses etc
The monastery wings are forming an irregulary square composed of : western wing – 67meters , north wing 105 m, the angle of the north wing – 24m , the massive east part – 49m ,the old east building – 53m and the south wing – 79m. The total length of the ring is 377meters.
In 1866 Marko from Vran village built the spacious monastery kitchen called “Magernitza” south of the Samokov gate.
Unfortunately ,the last time I went ,the kitchen was closed ,so I can not show you how enormous the chimney is , you gotta come and see it for yourself :)))
The wonderful corridors are surrounding the inner yard ,giving you a different view with every step.Go up, from floor to floor ,you can see a the roofs of the church , the inner yard , the mountains ,the forest, ….
On the second floor is located the Monastery library this pic of a monk reading some book, sitting under the arches is just…..Magic ……
Price per person in the monastery cells is 15 USD in summer 2005 or whatever the converted amount of money that makes.Reservations and reception bureau , on the right after the main entrance ,next to the museum.
Price: less than US$20
Favorite Dish: Taking the tour of the monastery makes you hungry ,so After you exit the Samokov gate ,there is a tavern situated on your left ,just over the river. It offers local bulgarian meals , fresh trout that is grown in the region , grill , beer…..
Price Comparison: about average
Directions: After the Samokov Gate ,on the left by Droushliavitza River
Price: less than US$10
The Monastery Bakery
Built in 1866 as the sign on the roof indicates ,the Monastery bakery has always hot home made bread and donuts. Yogurt and milk can be bought here too
Directions: Just exit the monastery by the Samokov Gate ( opposite end )
In the next 60 years ,the monastery reached a big spiritiual and material improvement. But the hard days came with the falling of Turnovo under Ottoman ( Turkish ) rule in 1393.
In the first half of the XV century the monastery became deserted , after being burned and robbed by turkish bandits. Only around 1460 the three sons of the Episcope of Krupnitsa – Joasaf , David and Teofan from the village Granitza / Kjustendil started reviving the monastery from the ashes. Nine years later ,they brought back from Turnovo to the monastery the miraculous relicts of Ivan Rilski . With the arrival of the relicts ,began the revival of the monastery and in 1749 were initiated the first reconstruction works of the buildings , that lasted about 40 years all the way till 1784. The monastery received severe damage during the bandit attacks in 1766 and 1779.
Enormous was the role of the monastery during the Ottoman ocupation of our lands in preserving the Othodox faith and identity of Bulgarians.During the whole occupation period ,while the priests and clercs all through the country were Greek and couldn’t speak bulgarian. They were preaching in their incomprehensible to our nation Greek language, In the Rila Monastery the people could hear the mass in Slavic. People were coming here to find peace for their burdens , and regain new forces for life. Youngsters were remaining to study and spread the Slavic Orthodox Religion. Here they copied the slavic church books, to be read in Bulgarian language among the enslaved people,here were hosted the “cell schools” , where the bulgarian language,culture and religion were taught. And from there on the educated Slavic clercs were sent through the country to spread and preach in Bulgarian the Orthodox religion.
Here Paisii Hilendarski ,the initiator of the bulgarian revival movement., began here his famous book ” History of the SlavBulgarians”, And Neofit Rilski has founded one of the most popular bulgarian educational school.
Directions: The monastery was sending messengers to the Russia ,to tell them about their enslaved smaller slavic brother , and bring back home faith about the glory, might and liberation movement initiated there.
Isn’t she nice , this tiny monastery nun , all dressed in black, sitting at the entrance of the church ,with all the frescoes around her. It is the same one that I saw little earlier washing the carpets. She looks soo…peaceful?
“Tepavitsa” – An Ingenious mechanism bringing the waters from the river into a pond to wash the monastery carpets. They become all clean ,just from the washing power of the running water. Sometimes soap is rubbed on them to acheive a greater effect.
Located at Drushlyavitza river outside of the monastery by a local tavern ,when you look up left from the Samokov gate
The holy relics of St Ivan Rilski were moved on the 19 oct 980 in Stedets – Sofia. In 1183, the magyar king Bela III ( 1173 – 1196 ) conquered the town and took the relics of the saint in the town of Ostrigom ( present Gran),but he returned them back in 1186/1187.In 1195 ,the bulgarian king Assen I , built at the Turnovo hill “Trapezitsa” , a temple “St .Ivan Rilski” and deposed there the holy relics, where they remained for the next 274 years.
After the conquering of the second bulgarian Kingdom from the Ottoman invaders, the relics were moved in the Rila Monastery again on the 1st july 1469,accordind to the description of Vladislav Gramatik.
For more than 1000 years Sv Ivan Rilski is the guardian saint of the Bulgarian people. He does miracles , for what he’s been named the Miracle maker.
You can pray for his assistance by going in the Rila Monastery and turning to him with pure faith and prayer. It’s even better if you subscribe by the priest so that he reads a prayer 4 you. Go to the holy spring and wash yourself with its waters . Pass through the cave of Ivan Rilski. Bow before the holy relics,if possible touch them,kiss the hand that does miracles. Cotton that had been in contact with the relicts can help too. Go to Ivan Rilski grave and take a little holy soil to bring home with you.
Miracles happen by the holy relics ,the miracle icon but aswell at the places where he lived and the objects he touched.The spring that he once drank from and gave its blessing is known to have healing properties.Contless are the people that received his help in hard moments of their lives ,miraculous healings part of which are recorded and published by arhimandrit Kliment Rilets.
Droushlyovitsa River – Just outside of the Samokov Gate are running the mountain waters of the Drushlyovitsa river ,where you will find a little bit up , a good local tavern and above it the “Tepavitsa” – natural washing mashine.
The exit gate or The Samokov Gate. on the left side of it you will find the Museum of Monastery Economy, located in underground galleries .
Directions: at the left side of The Samokov Gate
Nature park “Rila Monastery” Includes the surroundings of the monastery and was created in 2000 to preserve the unique nature of the region.
The crystal mountain waters of Rilska river , that owns the valley , are jumping from stone to stone . You can find her by taking the road to the Ivan Rilski grave than after awhile look for a bridge situated on your right side.
How to get there
Tourist agencies in Sofia organise tours to the Monastery ,so if you want everything planned and are not adventurous by nature – this is the best decision. On the other hand , if you are in short of buget or feel like you can manage on your own / and the biggest trouble comes here if you are not speaking bulgarian as you need to explain to the bus drivers where you want to go / you can try this : from Avtogara “Jug ” – south , there are busses to the village of Rila .This will be the first challange , as the bus station is operating internal lines and is Off the Beaten path. Once there ,keep in mind that there is a bus at 10h as far as my memory goes. This is the easy part .Once you get to the village of Rila ,that is about 20km away from the monastery ,you’ll change into an old bus that leaves as soon as there are enough passengers.
Make sure you ask when does the last bus return from the Monastery – somewhere around 16h – otherwise you’ll have to spend the night in a monk cell ,which is after all a chance to live something out of ordinary :)))