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Rila Monastery

Rila Monastery

Rila Monastery of Saint John of Rila also known as Rila Monastery is the largest and most visited monastery in Bulgaria. It is located 117 km south of Sofia deep in the valley of Rilska river at an elevation of 1147 m above sea level.




Location: Kyustendil Province


Rila Monastery Museum

Open: 8am- 5pm

Entrance Fee: 8 lv




Description of Rila Monastery


Rila Monastery started by a single hermit Saint John and grew to be one of the most important religious, cultural and historical icons for Bulgarians. In time of Ottoman rule using privileges granted by the authorities monks managed to preserve written records of history and language thus keeping the national identity during foreign yolk. Few monks live in Rila Monastery today, but there is still sense of tranquility and peace. Museums, chapels and different rooms are open to the tourists. Besides you can go hike at your own accord and see the cave with a small chapel where it all started. In order to get there you have to follow the same road that brought you to the monastery further into the mountains. Last few hundred feet is a hiking trail that leads up. It is of moderate steepness, but it is not very long.


History of Rila Monastery

Rila Monastery is situated at the base of Mousala peak, the highest on Balkan peninsula, this monastery was found by a hermit St. John of Rila (Ivan Rilski) during rule of Tsar Peter I (927- 968). Monk moved here by himself to pray and develop spiritually in seclusion. At the time Rila mountains were vast spaces of untouched forest where few dared to venture fearing animal attacks and robbers that hid in the mountains. Saint John lived in the cave just above the Rila Monastery until he was discovered accidentally by the local shepherds who lost part of their flock. From that point on he started gaining respect with the locals for wisdom and a gift of prophesy. John didn't treat everyone equally however. Some of the most important man in Bulgaria including tsar of Bulgaria attempted to met the monk, instead they received only a cold denial. Students that started to live near a hermit’s cave erected several buildings and that became the base of the Rila Monastery. Saint John’s body was moved to a monastery in the 15th century. The main church on the grounds of the Rila Monastery holds uncorrupted body of the saint with only hand exposed for the pilgrims that come to this site. The cave is still present today with a small church build next to it with former grave remained empty today. You can reach it by following a single road up a mountain. It is believed that those that manage to enter through a large opening and go through a cave emerging through a small opening on the other side will be cleansed of all the sins.



Almost every tsar from the Second Bulgarian kingdom donated to the Rila Monastery. In particular local feudal lord Hrelyu Dragovola in the 14th century rebuild the whole Rila Monastery. The tower of Hrelyu (1334- 35) and a small church next to it (1343) are some of the most prominent features that were left from that time.

After numerous raids by the Ottoman and destruction in the middle of the 15th century Rila Monastery was greatly undermined. Thanks to donations made from the Russian Orthodox Church many of the structures were rebuild in the late 15th century by three brothers from the Kyustendil region. After 1833 fire the monastery was partially reconstructed between 1834 and 1862 with the help of Bulgarians from all around the country under famous architect Alexi Rilets.








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