The drive up towards Rila Monastery is up through long, winding lanes which takes us over a thousand metres above sea level to our destination. The only downside is being stuck behind the many tourist coaches which herd people back and forth up this mountain road but luckily the views are a distraction so it’s not a problem to go so slow and enjoy the landscape.
The distinctive architecture and size of this UNESCO World Heritage Centre overwhelms you as you walk through the entrance an into the courtyard. Although it has been destroyed and rebuilt several times over the centuries , it was originally constructed back in the tenth century, inspired by the spiritual hermit, St John of Rila, who’s cave can be seen below the plot of the monastery. It is now the oldest monastery in the Slav world and the biggest in Bulgaria.
Walking around the grounds it is easy to be consumed by the painted frescos, towers and stairways and seemingly never-ending archways. Artistic creations aside, it feels more like a fortress than a place of spiritual worship, which could possibly explained by the constant historical threat of the invading Ottomans and subsequent regard as a destination for pilgrimages to take refuge.
The monastery’s attractions include houses two churches, History Museum, Cookhouse, Hreliov’s Tower and a library which stores literature dating back for thousands of years. It also has over three hundred monastic dwellings which can be reached by decorative wooden and painted structures, although not by the general public.
- Get there early to try and avoid the tourist traffic which gets extremely busy during high seasons and religious days.
- Although it is free to walk the grounds, you have to pay individual entrance fees to see the other areas inside; this can add up quickly if you’re a family group!
- If you drive, you can save yourself some money by parking a little further down the monastery road and avoid paying the car park fee.
- Although there are plenty of private companies offering Rila tours, the cheapest transfer from Sofia is using the Rila Shuttlebus
For more information from the official Rila Monastery website click here
More photos on Flickr