This is the biggest monastery in Bulgaria. It carries the name ‘St. Ivan Rilski’.
The monastery was founded in the 10th century by the hermit Ivan Rilski and his students. During the two centuries of Byzantine rule of the Bulgarian lands, the monastery was a place that conserved the Bulgarian national consciousness.
After the Second Bulgarian Kingdom was founded, the monastery turned into a spiritual and cultural center for the Bulgarians. It receives generous donations and this helps in the creation of magnificent icons, paintings and works of wood-carving into the monastery.
Then, dark times come again. Bulgaria falls under Ottoman slavery and the monastery is looted. It temporarily stops its spiritual activity. Fortunately, shortly after that, the monastery succeeds to revive with the help of the brothers Joasaf, David and Teofan. Despite the slavery, the heavy taxes and the frequent pillages, this spiritual center survived through the centuries.
Since 1961 the monastery has been turned into a museum and it is now one of the 100 National tourist sites. The beautiful surroundings of the monastery have the status of a nature park.
The monastery complex is surrounded by stone walls and it looks like a fortress. There are two gates which connect it with the outer world.
The Rilski monastery has one of the richest collections of icons dating from the period between the 14th and the 19th century. The oldest icon here dates from the 14th century and it pictures St. Ivan Rilski.
The library of the monastery houses around 250 handwritten books from the period from the 11th to the 19th century. You will also be able to see here the first Bulgarian globe. It was made by Neofit Rilski in 1836. For me, it is the most interesting exhibit in the museum because I love geography.
The Rislki monastery is the proof that the Bulgarian monasteries were all created in fascinating surroundings where nature leaves you speechless. The role of the monastery for the conservation of the Bulgarian through the centuries was significant, but what makes this complex unique for me is the beautiful building, surrounded by the mighty mountain.
Rilski monastery is in the list of the cultural monuments of UNESCO.
From the international road E-79 you should pull off for Kocherinovo city. After around 30 km you will reach the gates of the monastery.