Il Rila Monastery, the largest monastery in all of Bulgaria, is located in a fairytale-like area in the mountains of the Rila massif and is proudly one of 9 sites in the whole country to be part of the UNESCO World Heritage from 1983.
I visited it alone with a 1 day trip from capital Sofia.
The Rila Monastery
As this is a sacred place, it is necessary to adopt suitable clothing. In fact, a sign at the entrance prohibits entry to those who do not dress appropriately for the sacredness of the place: entry is prohibited to those wearing miniskirts, shorts that are too short or tank tops.
Bringing a scarf to cover your shoulders if you visit the monastery in the hottest season (July and August) is a good choice. Alternatively they are available at the Long Tunics Monastery.
Being located in an area in the mountains, the weather can change quickly and a beautiful sunny day can turn into a rainy day, so bringing a windbreaker or a k-way is recommended.
Selfie at the Rila Monastery
The Monastery is located in the western part of the Rila Massif, about 120 km from the capital Sofia, 84 km from Kyustendil, 223 km from Plovdiv and about 95 km from Bansko.
Even if the road to get to the Monastery is winding and sometimes you encounter fog, I love the freedom that travel by car gives and I think this is a great solution.
The rental cost is low, around 10 euros per day.
I personally recommend you to take a look at rentalcars.com (the solution I always use) for costs.
The Monastery is located on the main road connecting Sofia and Kulata, the E79. If you rent a car to get there you need to drive for about a couple of hours towards Sofia - Pernik - Dupnitsa and take the exit a left towards the village of Dupnitsa. From here the road to the monastery is about 30 km.
Parking in front of the monastery entrance is subject to charges.
If you want to get there from Sofia by public transport there is a bus that leaves from the station Ovcha Kupel everyday.
I did not choose this solution, because even if it is cheaper, it does not include the visit
to the Ivan Rilski quarry that I wanted to do.
The other reasons why I absolutely do not recommend this solution are that:
- the cost (about 12 euros per person) is not so lower than that of a tour and higher than that of a car rental.
- the bus gives you very little autonomy and flexibility, since there is only 1 a day, it arrives at the Monastery at around 13pm and leaves at 15pm.
Due to the fact that the bus is uncomfortable and takes a very long time, I chose to join the day trip organized by the hostel where I was staying. The price was a little higher than the bus (I paid 20 euros), but it is much more comfortable (they came to pick me up right in front of the door of the Sofia hostel and brought me back) and especially with buses you can't go to visit the quarry of Ivan Rilski which is located about 4 km from the entrance to the Monastery.
Alternatively another nice tour this is GetYourGuide which in addition to the Rila Monastery also leads to see the marvelous Boyana Church.
The Chapel in front of the Rilsky quarry
Il Rila Monastery it was founded at the beginning of the XNUMXth century by San Ivan Rilski, who actually lived in a cave about 4 km from the Monastery. Those who really laid the first stones were his disciples who came to him to study.
In 1335, the local lord, Stefan Dragolov built the monastery where it is located today together with a residential part, the defense tower and the church. Of these buildings only the tower Hrelyova it is still standing today: on the top floor there is a small chapel finely decorated with frescoes of great artistic value.
Over the centuries the Monastery was destroyed, enlarged, restored and rebuilt several times, but the main reason why it is so important is to have preserved the culture and religious traditions during the Ottoman invasion, thus becoming the symbol of Bulgarian orthodoxy.
The monastery as it is seen today was built during the first decade of the XNUMXth century.
Frescoes of the Rila Monastery
At first sight and from the outside, the Rila Monastery might seem like a huge stone fortress, but as soon as you cross the finely decorated arched entrance to the eye, the internal open space with the refectory balconies, the monastic cells, the tower and the splendid la Church of the Nativity, the largest in all of Bulgaria, decorated with precious frescoes and icons.
Side entrance of the Church of the Nativity
Inside the complex there is also a Museum (entrance fee) in which, among other things, the precious and mysterious Rila Cross, a wooden crucifix with 140 biblical inscriptions and more than 600 human figures, carved with such precision that, according to the story, its author the monk Raphael went blind.
Both inside the Church and the Museum it is absolutely forbidden to take pictures.
Rila Monastery, details
We have a couple of hours for the visit during which I get lost in the corners of the church, observing the incredible frescoes that decorate it, both inside and outside and which are undoubtedly the greatest treasure of the whole complex : the arches and walls of the church are decorated with more than 1200 evangelical scenes, painted in the period between 1840 and 1847.
In the Monastery, if desired, it is also possible to stay overnight.
The sign indicating the route to the Ivan Rilsky quarry
During our tour a visit to the quarry where the Saint Ivan Rilski really lived and which is located about 4 km after the Monastery was also included, always continuing on the same road up to a parking lot and a marked path that leads directly to the quarry.
We walk in silence under the vault of the large trees, the sun, having returned after the incessant rain of the morning, peeps through the foliage, giving the wet leaves the brilliant color of emerald. After about ten minutes uphill (but it is not very tiring) you arrive at a small chapel and at the entrance of the quarry from which, the story tells, you cannot get out if you are stained with one of the seven deadly sins. To be honest, I believe that only those who are stained with the sin of gluttony could have some problems getting out of the passage dug in the upper part.
Rilsky quarry ... only those who have been guilty of the sin of gluttony may not be able to get out!
On the way back, not being in a hurry, we stopped along the way in the small village of Kocherinovo to have a coffee. Here at any point you raise your eyes to the sky, you can see them everywhere on the roofs and chimneys of the houses large storks' nests: although storks are present only in spring and summer (if you come in this period you can see hundreds of them flying in the sky) and then migrate during the winter season, it is almost a sacrilege to touch their nests, so the storks at their return they find them intact, as they left them.