Rila Monastery

The Rila Monastery is the largest and most famous Eastern Orthodox monastery in Bulgaria.

At the heart of this monastery's history is the story of the medieval hermit Ivan. He was born in the 970's, and chose seclusion because of the moral decline during the reign of the Bulgarian Tsar Peter. He retreated to the almost inaccessible Rila Mountains. There he worked on his ideas, that were aimed at the underprivileged and for equality between people. His cave became a place of veneration for the Bulgarian people. Since the 15th century his relics have been laid to rest in the monastery itself.

Rila's monastic buildings originally date from the late 10th century, and were set up by the monastic community around Ivan. In the 14th century they were turned into a fortress by Hrelyo Dragovol, a feudal lord. Part of the walls and the tower today still remind of that period.

On January 13th 1833, a fire broke out and destroyed almost all (wooden) residential quarters. This national calamity was put right by thousands of Bulgarian craftsmen, that restored the buildings in a couple of years.


Visit May 2004

Inaccesible for the medieval man, stil a time-consuming trip for the modern traveller. From Sofia it takes almost all day by public transport to get there (and back), so I decided to be clever and rent a car. And this also took me best part of the day....

Driving in Bulgaria means escaping the potholes in the streets, pedestrians crossing 'the highway', circling around the ubiquitous horse-carriages, dead dogs and other runover animals. This can be fun, but what they add is totally erratic signposting. Although I had a detailed road map in Cyrillic, I took the wrong way seriously three times. In all, it costed some four hours to arrive at the monastery 120 kilometres from Sofia. What a day...

Here the lamenting stops: because it was worth all the trouble. Rila's is the most momentable, awe-inspiring, colourful and eccentric monastery I have ever been to (and I've seen many). Its location, in the dark green forests and with snow-clad mountains in the backgrounds, couldn't be better. The outside walls are a bit bleak, but entering via the Dupnitsa-gate, my mouth fell open taking in the spectacle. I can't begin to describe the colours, the frescoes, the architecture and all the details, but I hope I can give an impression via the pictures on this site.

Community Reviews

chris - June 2014

31th May 2014

Idea was to go both Rila Monastery AND drive short into Pirin park: that's to much for a day trip from Sofia. So we stuck to the Rila Monastery. Day we visited the kitchen was in renovation and seems to take a bit of months more. The Monastery is really great! We arrived early, around 10AM, there was almost nobody, at 11AM the big groups arrived and we were done making photo's (unfortunately not in the church or museum, also not WITHOUT flash.). My personal opinion is that without flash it's OK to make photos as it does not damage anything.

After this, we drove a bit further (around 10 minutes) the road into the mountains, you find a sign of St. Ivan, there you can do a short 30 minute hike up the mountain to the cave he originally lived in, there is a small church devoted to him to. It's not (as far as I know) part of the WHS but for sure worth to visit.

for photo's check my blog:


Steven - October 2008

I knew from my tour guide that Rila monestery was spectacular, but I really didn't expect what I saw. Such grandeur and sheer beauty is simply shocking.

I've been to most European countries and this is by far the most spectacular monestery there is. A must see, if you are comming to europe.

Horvath Mat - August 2005

I visited Bulgaria this August, and I must say that the Rila monastery was one of the most beautiful things I saw there, though I travelled around the country (Sofia, Varna, Plovdiv etc.) and I saw quite a lot if monuments and sights.

I think that the cloister looks fantastic and that it's situated in a gorgeous location, among those fantastic mountains. I really liked those verandahs and balconies, with columns and arches, and the mural paintings were amazing too.

Vlady Ardenski

I used to live in Bulgarai, until i immigrated to Canada. My mother told me that it would be a horrbile waste to have lived in Bulgaria and not to have seen the Rila Monestery. So she got me a ticket and i went to Bulgarai. After a few days of hanging out with my friends i went to the Rila Monestery (with not too much enthusiasm knowing i could be hanging out with my friends). The moment me and my grandparents arrived i was shocked at the beauty and the arcitecture i had seen before my eyes. When i saw the well preserved arcitechture that stood before my eyes i had one more reason to be proud of being Bulgarian. The Monestery is located in the Rila mountain, where it was made to preserve Bulgarian culture from the invasion of Turkie. For anybody who has the time, belive it is something worth seein in your life time.

- An anonomous Bulgarain

Marie t

Monastery of Rila it's the first reason why i gone in Bulgaria the first time. i really love it and be happy to see it eache time i can. it's a beautiful monastery "lost" in the Mount Rila, in the south west of Bulgaria. It was founded in the X century by the monk-hermit St John of Rila and it played an important role in the intellectual and political life of Bulgaria during the Middle Ages After the etablishment of the ottoman rule the cloister quickly falls into decay, but in the XV century it is again restored and inhabited and becomes a stronghold of the Bulgarian national spirit and culture. In the epoch of the Bulgarian national revival the Rila cloister is enlarged an renovated withe the help of the whle nation and participation of the most priminent Bulgarian craftsmen -builders and painters. In its present appearance it is the most impresive monument of the Bulgarian revival- a unique architectural ensemble, in wich are preseved artistic welths an rich museum collections.

Share your experiences!

Have you been to Rila Monastery? Click here to add your own review.

Site Info

Full name: Rila Monastery

Site History


The site has 5 locations.

  • Grave of St. Ivan Rilski Complex
  • Orlitsa Convent Complex
  • Pchelino Convent Complex
  • Rila Monastery Complex
  • St. Luke Hermitage Complex


The site has 8 connections.


  • Libraries Housing 250 manuscripts and 9,000 old printed matters
  • Tower-houses Hrelyo's Tower, built in 1334-5 by protosebastos Hrelja in the courtyard of the Rila Monastery, is a pre-Ottoman example of an autonomous tower that served residential as well as defensive purposes (wiki)



  • Built in the 14th century Origins from 10th century (burned down), rebuilt in the 14th century from which the oldest current remains are Tower of Hrelyu (1334-1335) and a small church just next to it (1343)


World Heritage Process

  • Inscribed on a single criterion only vi. to be directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance. (The Committee considers that this criterion should preferably be used in conjunction with other criteria)
  • WHS inscribed solely on Criterion VI 1983