Rila Monastery | Attraction Guides | History Hit

Rila Monastery

Kyustendil, Kyustendil, Bulgaria

Lucy Davidson

22 Jul 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About Rila Monastery

As well as being one of Bulgaria’s most popular tourist attractions, Rila Monastery is one of the most important religious and cultural sites in Bulgaria.

History of Rila Monastery

The site traces its roots to the 10th century when Saint Ivan of Rila lived in the region, devoting his life to a spiritual calling and gaining a strong following among the people. The earliest monastery devoted to the saint was built on the site in the early middle ages and was significantly rebuilt in the 14th century. However, the majority of the complex that is seen today traces its roots back to the 19th century, when the site was rebuilt following a devastating fire.

Widely acknowledged as one of the most important cultural and religious places in Bulgaria, the Rila Monastery was also designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983.

Rila Monastery Today

Today, the Rila Monastery is formed of a large outer rectangle of cloisters and accommodation chambers encircling the large domed Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption, which stands within. This important and impressive historic church contains the relics of Saint Ivan.

Alongside the cathedral is the oldest part of the complex, the 14th century Hrelyu Tower, which is named for the nobleman who built it. It stands 23m high and contains a number of impressive frescoes as well as an important chapel which is located on the top level.

Within the outer cloisters visitors will find a museum, containing information on the history of the Rila Monastery as well as displays of medieval art and other important artefacts.

There is a marked pathway which leads to the Cave of Saint Ivan which is believed to be the original dwelling of the saint and is approximately 4km away from the monastery. This site also features as one of our Top 10 Tourist Attractions in Bulgaria.

Getting to Rila Monastery

The most convenient way to reach the monastery from Sofia is by car, which takes around 2 hours via the A3. A number of people choose to take a day trip via a tour bus, which is affordable and informative. Taking a bus from the city is the cheapest option. Catch the bus to Rila Monastery from Sofia from Bus and Coach Station Zapad – Ovcha Kupel.

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