Rila Monastery – Bulgaria
Rila Monastery is situated on the southwestern slopes of the Rila Mountains, 1147 meters above sea level . It was founded by Ivan Rilski or St John of Rila in the 10th century. Previously, it was situated 3 km northeast of the present building. It beautiful setting, amazing architecture and history make it one of Bulgaria’s most important cultural monuments and a huge tourist attraction.
John of Rila was a hermit canonized by the Orthodox Church. He chose this isolated valley to escape the savagery of feudal life at the end of the 9th century and his displeasure at the laxity of the normal established monasteries. His monastery was plundered during the 18th century and before repairs started, the structure burned down in 1833. The resurrection of Rila Monastery was presented as a religious and patriotic duty and public donations poured in throughout the last century.
The Tower of Hrelyu, an impressive stone tower, stands in the middle of the inner courtyard. This is the oldest building of the complex, built by the local feudal Sebastocrator Hrelyu in 1334-1335. A small church of similar vintage stands next to the tower. The entire complex is quite impressive for its size. In the 4 storey residential section there are no less than 300 monks’ cells together with 4 chapels, an abbot’s room, a kitchen, a library and guestrooms for donors. The kitchen is particularly interesting for its really huge cooking vessels.
The wall paintings and richly decorated frescoes in the main church are pretty extensive and amazing. There were done by many artists in 1846, but it was only the famous Zahari Zograf who signed below his works. Zograf’s work can be still seen in quite a number of monasteries today. Besides, the monastery treasures a number of valuable icons painted in the 14th-19th centuries.
Rila Monastery was declared a national historical monument in 1976 and in 1983 was nominated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is a must see for any visits to Bulgaria.