Europe, Bulgaria, Southwest Bulgaria

Rila Monastery: Stunning serenity

No Comments 21 July 2010

Rila Monastery: Stunning serenity

Need a touch of the sublime? Join the Monkey on a journey to the forested mountain hiding place of Bulgaria’s Rila Monastery.

Rila Monastery, Rila, Bulgaria
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.

Rila Monastery, Rila, Bulgaria
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.

Rila Monastery, Rila, Bulgaria
The Monkey rests amongst the fancifully painted arches of Rila Monastery during one of his many visits there.

Rilski Manastir, Rila, Bulgaria
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.

This Monkey adventure has been viewed 3675 times since the 2010 website relaunch.



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7,262,675 (2008)

Land area:

110,550 sq. km.


Sofia (pop. 1,113,674; 2005)


In 2006, Bulgaria ranked 55th in the UNDP Human Development Index and 66th in total GDP, with a per capita GDP of $4,089.22. Public debt accounts for 10.5 percent of total GDP, while 14.1 percent of Bulgarians are beneath the poverty line.

Main language(s):


Monkey's name:

Maimunka (my-moon-ka)

Fun fact:

Bulgarians nod their heads up and down to say “no,” while they shake their heads from side to side to signify “yes.” That is, unless they adjust their head movements to accommodate for visitors accustomed to the more conventional non-verbal cues. Either way, head symbols can be a confusing affair in Bulgaria.

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