Located in the Rila mountain, the Monastery of Saint Ivan of Rila or better known as Rila Monastery is the largest and most famous Eastern Orthodox monastery in Bulgaria. Getting there is relatively easy as this national shrine is located only 110 kilometers south from the capital Sofia in the heart of Rila National Park.
Founded in the 10th century the Rila Monastery is one of Bulgaria’s most important religious, historical and architectural monuments of Bulgaria and a truly authentic place which celebrates the Bulgarian spirit, tradition and values. The site is one of the must see things when in Bulgaria among with the Seven Rila Lakes, also located located in Rila Mountain. The monastery itself is a home to around around 60 monks and it attracts thousands of tourists every year.
As soon as you walk through the main entrance and the stone walls, the main church building will reveal itself before your very own eyes. It was built in the 19th century (1834 to 1837) by an architect called Pavel Ioanov and is a true masterpiece. The church has five domes and three altars. On the inside it’s walls are skillfully painted and display various religious scenes in great detail. One of the most precious items inside is the gold-plated iconostasis. Inside the church is the last resting place of Boris III of Bulgaria- one of the most highly regarded monarchs the country has ever had.
The residential part inside the walls of the monastery consists of a four-storey complex and around 300 chambers. The high stone exterior walls give you a sense of a being inside a fortress.
Further, there is a museum famous for housing Rafail’s Cross, a wooden cross made from one piece and many other items. The last I was there was an entrance fee of 1 euro and is also worth the attention if you can spare the time.
Several kilometers away from the monastery there is a hidden eco path which leads to another small church in the woods. There is a way through the rocks next to the church that states that if you can go through it you sins will be wiped out. Definitely worth the effort!
If you even come to Bulgaria make sure to visit the Rila monastery and that you have a walk in the nearby woods. It’s one of the must see and do things in Bulgaria.
Also this destination is perfect for one day trips and a great opportunity to enjoy the clean air and green forests of Rila Mountain. I personally go there every season since it’s really close to my hometown Blagoevgrad. Each season has its own charm and it feels like a different experience every time.