15 June 2013

Bulgarian Blitz-Boogie: Rila Monastery

As my previous posts have alluded to, I went on a short holiday to Bulgaria. I flew to Sofia and spent 3 nights. While I was there, I have seen a bit of the capital, as well as the countryside. In fact, the first thing I have seen is the Rila Monastery, which is not in Sofia, but somewhere south of the capital. I joined a daytrip to get here, so we were in a car for 2 hours in order to find this place.

Let me start with the historical basics. Apparently, there was a man, his name was Ivan, and he was a monk, and a hermit. So he decided to go to a cave near here and dwell here for 12 years. That was centuries ago. Then he founded this monastery, which is continuously inhabited by the monks who follow his teachings. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The pictures you see above are taken from the wide expansive courtyard that forms the perimeter of this place. Outside, it looks like a castle and a fortress, but inside, there are these intricately design balconies full of arches.

I was told that this tower is the oldest structure in the whole complex. The bottom is a souvenir shop, and there were plenty of people buying religious trinkets, so I didn't think it was aesthetically pleasing enough to photograph.

As with every religious compound, it would be surprising if there was no resident church. So this is the church for this monastery. It is one of the few Orthodox churches I have been to, and it has a very different layout from the church layout that I am used to. There are no chairs, for example. Unfortunately, photography is not allowed inside, so just take my word when I say that there's plenty of gold inside this structure.

Finally, there are these frescoes that are found outside the church. They were very pretty, although some depict scenes that are rather gruesome. I spent quite a few minutes staring at them when I was there. And finally, I also captured some pictures of the tall trees that can be found inside the compound. Somehow they looked out of place at first, but then again, on hindsight, they add a sort of green aspect to the otherwise austere atmosphere of the location.

When I visited this place, I joined a daytrip that costs 40 BGN. It departed my hostel around 9:30 AM, and we returned around 5:00 PM. There are places to eat near the monastery, but not a lot. We also did some hiking near the cave of St. Ivan, so good outdoor shoes are very much recommended. I will blog about that next.


  1. Interesting place. I wouldn't have guessed the location based on the pics alone!

    1. Zhu,

      Yes, it is very interesting indeed. Somehow, this is the first time I had been to a place where Orthodox Christianity is the major flavor of religion and it really shows on the places I visited.