Rila Monastery is found in a Forested valley, about 80 km south of Sophia. It is Bulgaria’s
most famous Monastery. Founded in AD 927, inspired by the Hermet monk Ivan Rilski, it has remained a spiritual center for over 1000 years. By the end of the 14th century it had become a powerful fiefdom attracting donations from Bulgaria’s tzars.
The fortress occupies over 8800 square meters and inside its stone walls you will find very colorful architecture and religious art. The monastery was restored in the 15th century, after being plundered, when Rilski’s relics were returned from Veliko Tarnovo. The monastery was vital to the preservation of Bulgarian culture during the Ottoman rule.
Rila was nearly destroyed in 1833 when fire swept through all of the monastic buildings. Funds poured in from around the world and reconstruction began the following year. In 1961 the monastery was declared a National Museum and 22 years later a Unesco World heritage site.
The unique decoration of the buildings with their black, red and white stripes and the bright yellow domes set against the majestic Rila mountains has made the Monastery popular among pilgrims and tourists alike.
The compound contains a church, two museums, an icon gallery, guest house, and a
post office. the Hreliova Tower, named after a benefactor, is the only remaining 14th century structure remaining. The church of the Nativity, is the highlight of the compound, built between 1834-1837 contains exterior frescoes of scenes from the bible. The museum contains items and documents from several centuries, but its centerpiece is Rafail’s Cross, an early 19th century double sided crucifix carved from a single piece of wood and containing 33 scenes from the bible with over 600 human figures.