The Rila Monastery is situated in the southwestern Rila Mountains in the deep valley of the Rilska River and is Bulgaria’s most famous tourist attraction. With a history spanning almost 11 centuries, it appears to be one of the most important cultural, historical and architectural monuments in our country.
The whole complex has a rectangular shape with two main entrances, one in the north-eastern corner and the other in the western wing. The wings have decorated facades facing inward and heavy walls on the outside. The courtyard facades consist of a series of covered galleries and arcades supported by columns. The church of the Holy Virgin is the central piece of the monastery with its five domes, three altars and two chapels.
Inside, the monastery contains 300 chambers, four chapels, an abbot’s room, a kitchen, a library with 250 manuscripts and 9,000 old printed matters. It is famous for housing Rafail’s Wooden Cross, which represents 104 religious scenes and 650 miniature figures.
The Rila Monastery has played a prominent role in Bulgarian history. It is traditionally thought that the founder of the monastery was the hermit St. Ivan of the Rila. His students, who came to the mountains to receive their education, built the complex. It also acted as a depository of the Bulgarian language and culture in the ages of foreign rule and one of the hideouts for Bulgarian revolutionaries such as Vassil Levski, Gotse Delchev, Peyo Yavorov and others.
The Rila Monastery is well worth a visit. It has a breath-taking view of the mountain, and it is a fascinating addition to Bulgaria’s cultural, historical and architectural heritage.