Need a touch of the sublime? Join the Monkey on a journey to the forested mountain hiding place of Bulgaria’s Rila Monastery.
Perhaps Bulgaria’s most beautiful building, the Rila Monastery is also one of the holiest places in Bulgaria. Situated in a narrow, forested gorge high in the Rila Mountains, the monastery was funded by Ivan Rilski, a hermit, in the 10th Century. In medieval Bulgaria, the monastery was a center of religious study and expanded significantly in the 14th Century. The Ottomans partially ransacked the monastery during their conquest of Bulgaria, but reconstruction was undertaken at Rila during the 15th and 16th Centuries. At the start of the 19th Century a fire destroyed much of the complex, but from 1834 to 1862 the monastery was rebuilt in the National Revival style. Some of Bulgaria’s post-liberation kings used the monastery as a residence at times, and Rila is very much a national shrine for the Bulgarian people.
From the exterior, the high walls of the monastery make it resemble a fortress more than a religious center, but once through the gates, the open space of the courtyard, the enveloping arches of its four-storey gallery, and the bright colors of the church’s facade and frescoes all regale the eye. Here, the Monkey takes a look at the monastery, with the church and galleries clearly in view.
The stone tower at left is the oldest remaining part of Rila Monastery. Called Hrelyo’s Tower, this defensive looking structure dates from the 14th Century and houses the monastery’s bells.
The Monkey is particularly enamored of the grain of the wooden railings in this photo.
The Monkey rests amongst the fancifully painted arches of Rila Monastery during one of his many visits there.
Behind Maimunka in this photo you can see the multiple domes of the Rila Monastery church, the stone belfry, and the misty peaks of the Rila Mountains that surround the complex. Rila Monastery sits at 1150 meters, while the mountains around it rise to 2730 meters. Visitors can stay in the small rooms off the arched galleries, and some do so before or after making an ascent on the Rila peaks.
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