On October 25 we took a bus from Sofia to Rila Monastery, the largest East Orthodox monastery in Bulgaria. We bounced along, through the mountains in the mist, stopping in villages where ladies in housecoats passed money through the window to the driver in exchange for packages, what I do not know, this is his route. We picked up people along the way, passing men leading cows along the road. There were cornfields, orchards, and now we arrive at Rila Monastery.
Originally built in the tenth century, a small part of the fourteenth century re-construction, the Tower of Hrejla, still exists today. Most of the monastery was destroyed by fire in the 1800s and had to be rebuilt yet again. It has five domes, three altars and two side chapels. The impressive frescoes were completed in 1846.
The living section has three hundred rooms. We stayed one night in the monastary and enjoyed the peaceful setting. Of course the novelty of sleeping in an actual monastery was a draw for us. They lock the gates at ten p.m. so it you are outside, too bad.
No pictures are allowed inside the chapels where the intricate woodworking is a highlight. The bearded monks move gracefully and silently on their way to prayers. Within the chapel they sing acapella. Pilgrims and tourists take pictures in the inner yard, snapping photos of the frescoes and the architecture. There is a post office in the courtyard as well as a shop selling religious icons and postcards. Outside of the gate there are two restaurants and other souvenir shops. The dining experience is tolerable at best. Bring snacks. There is no food available within the monastery.
It does seem like a place where time stands still.
An Orthodox priest slowly circles the courtyard beating a piece of wood with a stick to give the call to prayer.
Rila Monastery is 117 km from Sofia. If you are into hiking there are trails from the monastery to the surrounding Rila Mountains. You could choose to stay over night or just make a day trip from Sofia on the bus. The morning bus back to Sofia leaves shortly before 9 am, it is a small, jolly bus, lots of locals sharing their chocolate with other passengers, chatting up the driver, very lively. Fun, I'm glad we came this way.
Here we can see the oldest part of the monastary, the Tower of Hrelja from the fourteenth century. Rila Monastery is a UNESCO World Heritage Sight.
Over 900,000 visitors make their way to Rila Monastery every year.
Interesting when you think about the founder, St Ivan: he was a hermit and lived in a cave.