The Rila Monastery is considered as the largest and the most famous Eastern Orthodox monastery located in the Rila mountains in Bulgaria. Also known as Monastery of Saint Ivan of Rila, it is considered as Bulgaria’s most important architectural and cultural monument. Named as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Rila Monastery has become a key tourist attraction in the said country.
Rila Monastery History
The Rila Monastery was named after Ivan of Rila, a hermit monk who lived in the Rila mountains. He is also considered as Bulgaria’s patron saint. It was initially built by the saint’s followers during the rule of Tsar Peter I sometime in the 12th Century. Ever since the Rila Monastery was built, successive rulers in Bulgaria provided some much-needed support by giving large donations for its construction over the years.
The Rila Monastery was reerected in its present location by a feudal lord named Hrelyu sometime in the first half of the 14th Century. But numerous raids led to the destruction of the monastery around the middle of the 15th Century. Eventually, the monastery was also rebuilt in the end of the 15 Century through the donations coming from different sources. After a long period of serving religious Bulgarians, the monastery was again destroyed by fire in 1833. Thanks to the help of wealthy Bulgarians during that time, the monastery was reconstructed between 1834 and 1862.
Rila Monastery Features
The current Rila Monastery was designed by famous architect Alexi Rilets and Pavel Loanov when it was reconstructed in 1834. There were other older buildings such as the Tower of Hrelja that survived, which was preserved and renovated along with the newer structures. The complex is considered as the most famous example of Bulgarian National Revival architecture. The main church, which was built from 1834 to 1837 was designed by Pavel Loanov. It was built with five domes, three altars and two side chapels. The church contains a number of valuable items, including intricate woodcarvings and frescoes. The porticos in the courtyard showed its Mamluk influence with the striped painting and its unique domes, which were popular during the Ottoman period.
The residential part of the monastery contains four stories, not including its basement. It consists of 300 chambers, 4 chapels, a library and other rooms. The exterior of the structure, with its high stone walls with little windows, resembles a fortress rather than a monastery.
Because of its significance in the history and culture of Bulgaria, the Rila Monastery was declared as a national historical monument in 1976. It also became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983.