Many of our guests asked us to recommend places to visit in Bulgaria on their way to Greece. If you are travelling by car for this summers Greek vacation and would like to explore Bulgaria’s rich cultural history along the way we suggest taking a detour through Bulgaria to visit the monastery of Saint John of Rila, better known as the Rila Monastery, along the way.

Why? Because this monastery is an architectural jewel which has been a part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1983 and is the most renown Eastern Orthodox monastery in Bulgaria. The monastery is conveniently situated in the southwestern Rila Mountains, 117km south of the capital Sofia, in the deep valley of the Rilska River inside of Rila Monastery Nature Park. This holy cloister contains a thousand years of history including 14th-century wall-paintings, a library containing about 250 manuscripts from XI-XIX century, 9000 old-printed books and a museum which is home to the famous Cross of Rafail. The wooden Cross of Rafail was carved from a single piece of wood and whittled down by a monk named Rafail using small steel chisels and magnifying lenses to recreate 104 religious scenes and 650 miniature figures. The woodworking process took no less than 12 years before its completion is 1802, shortly before Rafail lost his sight. Trust me, you will want to see it all!

It is no surprise the Rila Monastery is regarded as one of Bulgaria’s most important cultural, historical and architectural monuments because it represents a spiritual and literary centre dating back to the Middle Ages through present times and played a significant role during the Bulgarian national revival. The original monastery was founded in the 10th century in honour of the Serbian ascetic Saint John of Rila who spent the last 20 years of his life praying in relative solitude at a cave some four kilometres away. He was widely revered and celebrated by the Orthodox Church for spreading religious life amongst Eastern Christianity throughout his life and pilgrims traveled to his cave from far and wide to receive his blessing. If you are interested the cave is still available to view as it is only a short hike from the monastery. There are no remains of the original monastery because it was destroyed during the 14th century Ottoman occupation. It was later rebuilt by followers of the church in the 15th century and then was destroyed by fire at the beginning of the 19th century. The only structure that remains from this period is the Hreljina Tower which was used as the monastery’s fortress and provided vaulted security for monks in times of siege. The current complex was restored between 1834 and 1862 and is a characteristic example of the Bulgarian national revival (18th–19th centuries) and symbolizes the awareness of a Slavic cultural identity following centuries of occupation.

In the centre of the monastery’s cloister is the main church which is dedicated to the birth of the Virgin. The church consists of fives domes, two side chapels, three altars and a hand-carved gilded iconostasis which one of the monastery’s most prized possessions. The inside is also fully decorated with 19th-century frescoes. Its beauty is truly unimaginable. And as you will see the church and the tower are nearly fused together which makes it easily accessible from the church. During the summer the tower is open to visitors, so don’t forget to walk up to the fifth floor and visit the chapel, home to the Transfiguration of God. Also viewable through the windows of the chapel are 14th-century paintings. Keep your eyes open in the tower because there are ancient remnants everywhere!

There are no entrance fees to the monastery complex and the church is free of charge.
The complex and church of Rila monastery open every day from 7AM to 7:30PM.

The history museum is open every day from 8:30AM to 7:30PM. As well as the Ethnographic museum, Tower of Hrelija, Bulgarian renaissance guestrooms and Monastery farm are open every day from 8:30AM to 5:00PM.
The cost of admission is as follows:

✔ 4€ for Adults

✔ 0,50€ for students

✔ 3€ for the family package (1,50€ for each parent and 0,50€ for each child).

During the visit and stay on the territory of Rila monastery it is not allowed:

✔ smoking in the monastery complex

✔ entry in the complex with improper attire: short skirts, shorts, vests, and all other kinds of skimpy outfit

✔ taking photographs and videos in the temple and in the monastery museum

✔ going upstairs on the floors of the residential buildings

✔ making noise, as well as entering with pets

When in the temple, it is highly recommended to:

✔ observe silence by all means

✔ men enter without hats

✔ it is forbidden to enter with perambulators, tourist backpacks and other kinds of bulk baggage

✔ when we pray in front of the icons, or in front of the chest with the relics of Saint John, we should not place our hands on them. The Holy Icons, as well as the relics, are honored only with kissing

✔ the lit candles are not held in hands, but they are placed in the appropriate places: the low candelabra for peace and the high candelabra for health

✔ it is not accepted the sit in the temple with crossed legs, to keep hands in pockets, as well as the use of mobile devices.

More details about Rila Monastery you can find at the official website HERE.