Day out Sofia: Rila Monastery

Rila Monastery, bird

Last week, I told you about a wee church – but a very special church – on the outskirts of Sofia. Well, I decided to remain in Bulgaria just a bit longer. This week, I thought I’d take you along to another treasure. Today, we’re going to Rila Monastery, about 125 km from the Bulgarian capital, to wander around a curious and beautiful site in the mountains, probably my favourite spot in the country (though it must be said, I haven’t yet seen it all.)

What awaits inside the portal?

Rila Monastery Bulgaria - entrance portal

Let’s step inside the portal. Or rather, the Dupnitsa Gate. And what awaits you is an enchanting world. A world with vibrant colours and exquisite works of art, a world with plenty of space for quiet contemplation in the fresh air. It’s a sacred world, yet you don’t have to be the slightest bit religious to appreciate the spiritual atmosphere.

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You’ll see covered stairs and stunning hallways outside the monks’ apartments. There are porticos and arcades, like this magnificent corridor.

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Apart from the paintings, murals and frescoes, you’ll find golden icons, wood carvings, an amazing library with ancient books and manuscripts, and Ivan’s relics.

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Here’s what UNESCO has to say:

Rila Monastery was founded in the 10th century by St John of Rila, a hermit canonized by the Orthodox Church. His ascetic dwelling and tomb became a holy site and were transformed into a monastic complex which played an important role in the spiritual and social life of medieval Bulgaria. Destroyed by fire at the beginning of the 19th century, the complex was rebuilt between 1834 and 1862. A characteristic example of the Bulgarian Renaissance (18th–19th centuries), the monument symbolizes the awareness of a Slavic cultural identity following centuries of occupation.

Now, St John – or St Ivan as he is known as here – lead a simple life. He lived in a cave in the neighbourhood and the monastery was built in his honour by his devout followers. Ivan’s cave, as well as a little church, are just a few kilometers further up the mountain; it’s well worth the short hike (about half an hour).

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Rila Monastery also played an important role in preserving Bulgarian identity during Ottoman rule, and has served as a hideout for many a revolutionary.

The monastery is an easy day trip from Sofia. If you have plenty of time, you can take a train/local bus, or the once daily direct bus. If you’re feeling brave (re reading maps and signs in Cyrillic), you can rent a car. If you’re at least 2 people, the easiest option is to book a shuttle, or even taking a tour. Some tours combine Rila Monastery and Boyana Church. That would be an efficient way to get a look at both these World Heritage sites.

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Have you visited Rila Monastery? Would you like to?

Hop over to this week’s Travel Photo Thursday for more fab pix from around the world.

unesco logoRila Monastery is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Here are more heritage sites I’ve visited around the world.

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13 Comments

  1. Steve 31 March 2016 at 0710 - Reply

    I am visiting Bulgaria towards the end of September and will ensure I spend the day here. Thanks for the tip Sophie.

  2. Cindy 31 March 2016 at 2023 - Reply

    Oh this is so on my must-see list! Love your pictures – they are better than most of the ones I’ve seen. . . but now I really do need to plan to get there to take my own pictures!

  3. budget jan 1 April 2016 at 0319 - Reply

    It looks fantastic. It has been well maintained – those colours are so vibrant. I would love to visit here.

  4. Ruth - Tanama Tales 1 April 2016 at 0543 - Reply

    What a place! I like all aspects of it. Did you visit as a day trip from the capital?

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 4 April 2016 at 2142 - Reply

      Yes, I was there only for the day. Would have been wonderful to spend the night nearby though, and watch the sunrise.

  5. Jim @ ReflectionsEnroute 3 April 2016 at 2140 - Reply

    We have been to Rila. It is a beautiful monastery and your photographs definitely do it justice. There used to be a small restaurant just outside the gate and up the hill along the small river. It served the best trout! I wonder if it’s still there?

  6. Grey World Nomads 4 April 2016 at 1200 - Reply

    Awesome place and photographs. Bulgaria wasn’t on our map till now but it surely would be interesting to visit. #TPThursday

  7. Nancie 5 April 2016 at 1149 - Reply

    Hi Sophie! I have never been to Eastern Europe. It’s on my list, and I would definitely make a point of visiting this stunning monastery. That hallway is outstanding. Do you know if the painting have been restored, or is this the original?

    Thanks for linking up this week!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 22 April 2016 at 1526 - Reply

      Rila is absolutely gorgeous. There has been some restoration work over the years, but I don’t know for sure re. this painting.

  8. Nancie 5 April 2016 at 1150 - Reply

    Hi Sophie! I have never been to Eastern Europe. It’s on my list, and I would definitely make a point of visiting this stunning monastery. That hallway is outstanding. Do you know if the painting have been restored, or is this the original?

    Thanks for linking up this week! #TPThursday

  9. Jolene 16 April 2016 at 0214 - Reply

    Oh wow! I find monasteries to intriguing but never had the pleasure of visiting one, so found myself glued to the screen with your post! Certainly would love to travel through loads more of Europe for sure!!

  10. Luminita 2 May 2016 at 2306 - Reply

    Religion and history are so strong connecte din Bulgaria. There’s practically no church or monastery in Bulgaria without a rich history. Rila is no exception. The photos are great!

  11. Facem Bani 9 May 2016 at 1827 - Reply

    We have been to Rila. It is a beautiful monastery and your photographs definitely do it justice. There used to be a small restaurant just outside the gate and up the hill along the small river. It served the best trout! I wonder if it’s still there?

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