In the valley of the Rila River, less than 120 kilometres from the Bulgaria capital Sofia, at an altitude of just over 1100 metres, is one of the world’s most picturesque monasteries. Possibly Bulgaria’s most famous tourist site, Rila Monastery is easily reached by public bus from Sofia, and works well as both an overnight or day trip from the capital.
Buses run regularly and there are plenty of tours as well, but if it takes your fancy, you can stay at Rila Monestary overnight. I found a post here – Staying at Rila Monastery – which details an experience late last year of staying at the Monastery. It’s around 10 Euros to stay.
The place itself was founded in the 10th century and named after its founder Ivan of Rila, apparently a hermit. The interweb is telling me that it is home to around 60 monks – not sure how many nuns but the article I linked to certainly does mention nuns. So, it’s more than NONE. Sorry. I really have no ‘bad joke filter’ sometimes…
Story goes that Ivan of Rila, the hermit, lived in a cave around the parts of the Rila River and the valley which is now home to the Monastery. It was his students who built the original structure. The present monastery was built in the 14th century by a feudal lord.
Visiting is a very pleasant day out indeed. It’s cooler than Sofia, which in summer is a blessing – Bulgaria, being just north of Greece, enjoys very hot summers, although it is also a very green country in places. And Rila is certainly surround by a stunningly beautiful forest and mountains.
It’s a multi-storey affair with a large courtyard. You can explore the rooms, well some of them, mostly for monks’ lodgings. The shape of the thing is quite interesting – I found this little plan on Wikipedia which shows you – that although there are four strips of rooms, or buildings if you will, creating the courtyard in the middle, they are not in the least bit straight or predictable, which I rather like.
You can visit the old kitchens and there’s an icon museum, and in the centre is the main church next to the tower of Hrelja. The church certainly is functioning today, and is a nice place to sit down, light a candle if that’s your thing, and appreciate that some places on this Earth are pretty special.
And Rila Monastery certainly is. Okay – it probably won’t blow your socks off, but it’s a place of beauty and history surrounded by mountains and forest. There’s a little café/restaurant nearby I believe, and a little cart selling doughnuts which are pretty famous, but I must be honest – didn’t do much for me!