Bulgaria: Rila Monastery – The Most Sacred Place in the Country
If we had to choose sights in Bulgaria yyou shouldn't miss we opt for the Rila cloister. It is magnificent and it played a crucial role in Bulgarian history especially in the era of national revival. This is also the reason why the cloister is always surrounded by numerous tourist buses despite its remote location in foresta and mountains. Don't worry about it being overcrowded. The entire compound covers area of 8,800 square meters. Some tourists buses may get lost here easily.
According to tradition the cloister was founded by hermit Ivan of Rila who lived in a cave nearby. The cloister goes by his name but is rather known as the Rila cloister. The monastery was founded by the students of Ivan. They came here into the mountains to be with him. Yet don't imagine the structure has stood here ever since. Ivan of Rila lived between 876 and ca 946. There is rather spiritual continuity.
The monastery you can see today was built in the first half of the 14th century. It's present form comes mostly from the 19th century. However, even some remnants of the 19th century were preserved, especially the Chrelj tower. Unfortunately, the monastery burned down during the fire of 1933, rich Bulgarians rebuilt it in the time of Bulgarian national revival. One could say it was an undertaking simalar to the crowdfunding which helped to finance the National Theater.
The Rila monastery is of great significance for the Bulgarians for it preserved the Bulgarian language and culture for centuries. Bulgarian revolutionaires hid there in the 19th century including Vasil Levski, a national hero known as the Apostle of Freedom. Moreover, the Rila monastery is one of the most popular sights in the country, it is depicted on bank notes, and it is the single largest Orthodox monastery in Bulgaria. In the past, up to several hundreds monks lived there. Today, there are about 60 of them. Yet unocuppied cells are used by tourists to stay over night. However, it is rather simple type of accomodation. We must bear in mind that it is still a monastery. Hence, don't expect a plasma TV or a minibar.
The main yard features the aforementioned Chrelj tower and an impressive church the walls of which are covered by frescoes. There are different Biblical scenes (the baptism of Christ), hellish creatures, the fall of Constantinople or the Apocalypse. A tourist from the Czech Republic, an atheist country, will not understand this Biblical "comics" . If you wished to read it then take a manual to iconography or something like that.
If you didn't get tired of the Rila monastery or you wished to spend more time in the area, I recommend you to make a trip to Stob, a town nearby featuring Stob pyramides. According to the legend, these pyramides are petrified wedding guests. Yet there are many more stories about whom was turned into stone.
Text and photos: Kateřina Holečková
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