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Introducing Rila Monastery

Bulgaria’s largest and most renowned monastery emerges abruptly out of a forested valley in the Rila Mountains. It’s a major attraction for both Bulgarian pilgrims and foreign tourists. On summer weekends the site is especially busy, though at other times it provides more solitude. Stay at a nearby hotel or camping ground, or even at the monastery itself to experience Rila’s photogenic early mornings and late evenings. You can also hike the surrounding mountains.

The monastery was founded in AD 927 by hermit monk Ivan Rilski. Originally built 3km to the northeast, it came to its current location in 1335. By the 14th century’s end, it had become a powerful feudal fiefdom. Though it was plundered early in the 15th century, the monastery was restored in 1469, when Rilski’s relics were returned from Veliko Târnovo. Rila Monastery was vital to the preservation of Bulgarian culture and religion under Ottoman rule, even though the Ottomans sacked it several times.

Rila’s greatest modern catastrophe was an 1833 fire that nearly engulfed all monastic buildings. An inundation of funds from Bulgarian and foreign donors allowed reconstruction to commence within a year. In 1961 the communust regime proclaimed Rila a national museum, and 22 years later it became a Unesco World Heritage Site.