Rila Monastery

(continuer en français) – Published: March 13, 2022

Rila Monastery, Bulgaria

Isolated in the mountains just over 60 miles, 100 kilometres, from Sofia, the Rila Monastery is the most revered of the monasteries by Bulgarians as it is closely associated with their history and identity.

The origin of the monastery dates back to the 10th century when a hermit came to live in isolation in a cave a few kilometres away. Over time his fame spread and attracted followers who built the first buildings.

Later canonised by the Orthodox Church, Saint John of Rila stimulated a current of religious fervour, supported by the kings of Bulgaria who gave their constant and generous support to the monastery.

The exterior

From the outside, the monastery has a sober stone facade, which looks like a defensive wall in response to the attacks suffered in the past. From the 15th century onwards, the Ottomans attacked and looted the monastery several times.

It was tirelessly rebuilt, becoming a symbol of resistance to Turkish rule, preserving both religion and language and thus national identity in the face of the occupiers.

The courtyard

The facades on the inner courtyard offer this unique spectacle of galleries on several floors. They serve about 300 cells and some are still inhabited by priests who can be seen passing by in their long black robes.

Visitors are not allowed to go upstairs, but the floors regularly creak with the passage of its pious residents, trying to remain indifferent to the interest of the curious.

The church

The church in the middle of the courtyard only dates from the middle of the 19th century but has all the codes of the traditional orthodox churches with its multiple domes. Inside, precious icons from past centuries are preserved.


As a guardian of Bulgarian traditions, the Rila Monastery attaches great importance to pictorial decoration. Large frescoes cover the walls and vaults of the church, and although they are relatively recent, dating from the middle of the 19th century, they reflect Bulgarian Orthodox iconography.

A fire destroyed the monastery again at the beginning of the 19th century, so most of what is seen today dates from its reconstruction from 1834. The oldest part is the Hrelja tower dating from 1335.

The monastery has been on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1983.

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    • Outside Bulgaria the Rila Monastery may not be very well known, but when preparing a trip to this country, its importance is quickly evident. Thank you for reading.


    • It is true that the repetition of the arches creates a beautiful visual impact. I was surprised to see popes still living in a place so frequented by visitors. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. You managed to capture the beauty of this monastery really well. From the outside, those arches and columns catch people’s attention. Architecturally speaking, the structures within the monastery compound already look so pretty. But then, they added those incredibly detailed and ornate frescoes. So amazing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for pointing out the aesthetic qualities of the monastery which are easily impressed upon the photographer. In the present context, it is also interesting to note how this place could be a point of resistance in the difficult moments of the Bulgarian people. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

      Liked by 1 person

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